Students from other European Union countries attending UK universities generate £3.7 billion for the UK economy and support more than 34,000 jobs across the country, according to analysis from Universities UK.
The research, which is based on 2011-12 student numbers, found that EU students generated £1.44 billion for the economy through direct on-campus spending of £220 million on fees and costs, once the knock-on effect of that expenditure was calculated.
The rest of the money (£2.27 billion) was generated through off-campus spending of £1.49 billion on goods and services, such as food and rent.
Through their on-campus and off-campus spending, EU students supported or created 34,250 jobs throughout the UK, the UUK analysis claims.
The analysis was released a day after prime minister David Cameron gave a speech at the University of Exeter in a bid to persuade students to join the “remain” camp ahead of the 23 June EU referendum.
The UUK analysis included a breakdown of the money generated in all regions of the UK, showing that London gains the most from EU students, taking £788.9 million in income and 7,580 jobs, while Northern Ireland benefits the least, with £78.1 million and 841 jobs.
It added that there are around 125,000 students from other EU countries studying at UK universities, representing 5 per cent of the nation’s total student population. The largest proportion of these students come from Germany (13,675 students), followed by France (11,955), Republic of Ireland (10,905), Italy (10,525) and Greece (10,130).
Dame Julia Goodfellow, president of UUK and vice-chancellor of the University of Kent, said the figures showed that EU students “spend money and create jobs in all regions and corners of the UK”.
She added: “EU students also make a very important academic and cultural contribution to university life, creating an international, outward-looking culture on campuses which, in turn, benefits UK students.
“Leaving the EU and putting up barriers to work and study makes it more likely that European students and researchers will choose to go elsewhere, strengthening our competitors and weakening the UK’s universities.”
Universities and science minister Jo Johnson added that the UK’s “success as a knowledge economy hinges on our ability to collaborate with the best minds from across Europe and the world”.
“It would be reckless to cut ourselves off from the rich sources of EU funding, the access to valuable shared research facilities and the close institutional ties that provide so many opportunities to British students and academics,” he said.
Mr Johnson and 13 former ministers, including previous universities and science ministers Greg Clark and Lord Willetts, are signatories to a letter to The Times published on 8 April arguing that a vote to leave the EU would “weaken our universities and lessen their positive impact”.
However, Angus Dalgleish, professor of oncology at St George’s, University of London, told Times Higher Education that the UK’s remaining in the EU would not make a “blind bit of difference” to the money generated for the economy by EU students.
He added that the £3.7 billion figure quoted by UUK did not take into account the amount of money the UK is “losing from EU students taking out student loans and not paying them back”. In 2012, THE reported figures from the government and Student Loans Company that showed that 42 per cent of EU students liable to repay were not keeping up with repayments.