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The Impact of International and EU Students in Wales – Article for the Education Supplement of the Western Mail

Topic: Article by Professor Noel Lloyd, Chair of HEW

THE internationalisation of higher education brings many benefits to Wales and to the world. As the Western Mail featured yesterday a report from Oxford Economics shows that nearly a quarter of a billion pounds is contributed to the Welsh economy by international and EU students. This means that over 9,000 jobs in our communities are sustained by the presence of students from overseas.

This study also demonstrates the wider long term economic benefits for Wales of international and EU students. Positive experiences of our universities contribute to a higher international profile for our nation and helps foster future business and cultural links. Yet the immediate economic contribution of international and EU students is not one that should be downplayed at a time of economic challenge. This report shows that these economic benefits are much larger than previously thought and includes a £23m annual boost to the tourist industry in Wales.

The agenda for international engagement in higher education is a broad one and is about themes that go beyond student recruitment. This is reflected in the way in which the internationalisation of HE in Wales is embedded not only in the Assembly Government’s higher education strategy, For our Future, but also in its Economic Renewal programme. University curricula now incorporate important global themes in the learning experience. The input of academic staff from overseas helps cross-fertilise scholarship and helps to enrich our research base – more than a third of newly appointed researchers in some institutions come from beyond the UK. This in turn helps develop the knowledge networks required for economic renewal, helping deliver the ambition to make Wales an attractive place to invest in.

The benefits of a university education at a Welsh university for international students are clear. Wales is a welcoming nation with universities committed to ensuring that international and EU students benefit from their learning and cultural experience in Wales. Our higher education system is one that is widely respected for its focus on quality and the importance of learning and teaching. It is therefore no coincidence that some of our universities have some of the highest student satisfaction ratings in the UK, and some of the best and most innovative international student support – as independently recognised in the International Student Barometer and in the Times Higher Education Awards.

The benefits to home students of international and EU students studying in our universities are also significant. It helps expose students to different cultures and approaches to critically assessing received wisdom – one of the core purposes of universities. International students enrich the universities in which they study and the communities in which they live. Universities are inherently transnational institutions, they must be recognised internationally to be able to contribute to their localities and serve Wales in the most effective way.

Our universities have a high reputation internationally as welcoming institutions offering high quality provision. This could be threatened by the draft proposals to change the visa arrangements for international students. There is a danger that the proposals as they stand could have the unintended consequence of undermining our ability to recruit international students at a time of rising unemployment.

Universities in Wales since their earliest origins have been outward looking seats of learning and scholarship. In the twenty first century higher education is a rapidly expanding global activity, reaping a range of rewards for those who participate in it and those who benefit indirectly. Wales’s universities have positioned themselves well in these developments and seek to continue to make positive strides for Wales in this area.