The benefits and costs of international higher education students to the UK economy: Analysis for the 2021-22 cohort – May 2023

Practice area: Education and Labour Markets
Client: Higher Education Policy Institute, Universities UK International, and Kaplan International Pathways
Published: 16 May, 2023
Keywords: economics of education higher education 2023 Public Policy

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With 679,970 international students studying at higher education institutions across the United Kingdom – equivalent to 24% of all higher education students in 2021/22 – international students contribute significantly to our economic and social prosperity, both in the short term during their studies as well as in the medium to longer term after they graduate.

Given the continuing importance of international students as a source of export revenues, alongside the ongoing political debate relating to potential visa restrictions for international students’ dependants and potential reductions in their post-study work visa rights, London Economics were commissioned by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), Universities UK International (UUKi), and Kaplan International Pathways to update our previous analysis of the benefits and costs to the UK economy associated with international students.


Following two previous studies estimating these impacts for 2015/16 (here) and 2018/19 (here), the analysis updates the previous results by focusing on the cohort of international students who started higher education qualifications in the UK in 2021/22.

Key findings

  • The total net impact on the UK economy of the cohort of first-year international students enrolled at UK HEIs in the 2021/22 academic year was estimated at £37.4bn across the duration of their studies. Approximately £3.9bn of this net impact was associated with EU domiciled students, while the remaining £33.5bn was generated by non-EU domiciled students in the cohort.
  • The estimated total benefit to the UK economy from 2021/22 first-year international students over the duration of their studies was approximately £41.9bn, while the estimated total costs were £4.4bn. This implies a benefit-to-cost ratio of 9.4.
  • The net economic impact per student was estimated to be £125,000 per EU domiciled student, and £96,000 per non-EU student. In other words, every 9 EU students and every 11 non-EU students generate £1m worth of net economic impact for the UK economy over the duration of their studies.
  • Reflecting the 40% increase in the number of international students between 2018/19 and 2021/22, the net economic impact has increased from £28.2bn for the 2018/19 cohort to £37.4bn for the 2021/22 cohort (a 33% increase in real terms). The impact has also increased by 58% in real terms since 2015/16 (from £23.6bn in 2015/16 to £37.4bn in 2021/22).
  • The economic impact is spread across the entire UK, with international students making a £58m net economic contribution to the UK economy per parliamentary constituency across the duration of their studies. This is equivalent to £560 per member of the resident population.