UK students believe their university experience will lack cultural diversity if the numbers of international students were to decline, research from the National Union of Students has found.
The NUS undertook the survey in December 2016 in response to the announcement of a consultation on the entry requirements for international students at the Conservative Party conference earlier that year.
The aim was to find out how UK students thought their university experience would be affected if there were reduced numbers of international students.
Students were questioned on different aspects of studying with international students, including how they contributed to their courses, the entry requirements for international students in comparison to those for UK students and their right to work in the UK after graduation.
About 70 per cent of postgraduates and 65 per cent of undergraduates said that they would have a less culturally diverse experience at university if there was a 50 per cent drop in international students.
This increased to 75 per cent of postgraduates and 69 per cent of undergraduates if there was a 100 per cent reduction in international students.
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“I come from somewhere with very little ethnic/cultural diversity so I like that there is much more diversity here at university; I feel international students are valuable as they are interesting to get to know. I appreciate the range of people here,” one undergraduate engineering student said in the survey.
Students across all subjects and levels felt that the quality and availability of their courses would also be affected if there were lower numbers of international students. More than 30 per cent of undergraduates thought that the quality and value of their course would be lowered if there were fewer international students, with 43 per cent of postgraduates in agreement.
Some 53 per cent of postgraduates also felt there would be less money for course resources.
Mostafa Rajaii, NUS international students officer, said the research shows that the presence of international students has a big impact on UK students.
“It is clear that international students play a vital role in creating diverse and exciting communities on our campuses and that UK students feel that their international peers help them to engage with new ideas and cultures. Home students are clearly indicating their classes, campuses and communities won’t be what they want them to be without the presence of international students,” he said.
“I sincerely hope that the government will listen to students’ views and carefully consider how their upcoming proposals on immigration rules will impact students, their courses and their communities.”
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Students were also asked about an international student’s right to work after they graduated. Three-quarters of UK students either agreed or strongly agreed that international students should have the right to work in the UK after graduation.
“Making international students leave after studying in the UK is poor policy because highly skilled people contribute more than their share to the economy rather than taking away resources. If they cannot work in the UK they will happily take their skills elsewhere,” said a postgraduate in historical and philosophical studies.
The NUS analysis was based on responses from more than 4,600 students. Three-quarters of the respondents were undergraduates and 43 per cent of all the respondents were first-year undergraduates.
Responses were collected from students across England, Wales (2 per cent of the total results came from Wales) and Scotland (4 per cent). Students in Northern Ireland were also questioned but the response rate was too low for the data to be published.
The NUS’ analysis of data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency found that many universities have already seen a reduction of 40 per cent or more international students since 2010.
The full NUS report can be found here.