The Wider Benefits of International Higher Education, released today, surveyed 100 students earlier this year who had returned to their home countries after graduating from a UK university.
They left with “very positive” memories of their time in Britain, the report says, and argues this had created an “emotional bond” between them and the UK, “extending the UK’s power of soft diplomacy”.
“The trust created underpins support for the UK and its products, culture and language, resulting in brand loyalty for UK goods and travel to the UK for leisure, the promulgation of UK values during capacity building at home, and in the choice of UK partners when entering international business collaborations,” it concludes.
It recounts the story of one interviewee, who studied for a PhD in economics at the University of Cambridge in the 1990s before working at the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
He is now at director level in one of China’s national banks, and told interviewers that because of his education, the UK has “a friend down in China”.
“When I have a negotiation with Bank of England, I always go kind of emotionally bonded…when the Bank of England or other UK people visit me in my office or duty, I will [treat them] like family, quite like a kind of large family, like an old friend. Emotionally bonded,” he said.
The study recommends that the government better promotes the employment opportunities for international students in the UK after graduation.
But it stops short of criticising the controversial changes to the student visa system introduced by the coalition – for example, the decision to roll out “credibility” interviews for visa applicants this year in order to weed out bogus students.