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International students do not impact outcomes for domestic students in England

11 January 2024

International students do not importantly affect education and labour market outcomes of domestic students in higher education in England, finds a new study involving UCL.


The study, published in the European Economic Review by researchers at UCL and the Universities of Surrey and Essex, investigated whether international students in undergraduate programmes affect the educational performances and early labour market outcomes of their UK-domiciled peers.

The research team reviewed data from undergraduate students enrolled at universities in England in the academic years 2007/8-2010/11, to exploit the variation in exposure to international students in university programmes across different cohorts.

The researchers tested whether studying with international students (as measured by the share of international students in the first year of the undergraduate programme) impacts the probability of domestic (native) students successfully graduating, and of graduating with good grades.

They found there is no evidence of international students affecting these outcomes, nor is there any evidence of international students affecting the type of job that native graduates have at six months after graduation.

The study shows that international students (and more specifically, EU-domiciled students) have some effects on the retention of native students in non-STEM programmes, instead of moving to a STEM degree, and in increasing the probability of domestic students to move from a degree in a university belonging to the Russell Group to a university not belonging to a Russell Group. However, both of these scenarios are so rare, the researchers say these specific findings are only marginally relevant. Additional further analysis shows that students that make such changes to their degree programme or switch universities have better performances in terms of probability of graduating and degree classification.

Study co-author Dr Greta Morando (IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education & Society) said: "Our study helps to answer the question of what impact international students have on the UK economy by looking at specific aspects that has never been studied before at the national level: the direct effect that international students have on native students' education and labour market performances.

“We find no evidence of international students being detrimental for native students' probability of graduating and for their degree classification, nor do we find a significant impact on natives' labour market participation and quality of job at six months after graduation.”

The researchers say their findings should be considered in the context of the benefits that international students provide to the UK, as other research has shown that a typical higher education student from overseas (outside of Europe) brings a net economic benefit of £95,000 (or £68,000 for students from the EU) to the UK. International students also contribute to cross-subsidise UK students’ participation in higher education through tuition revenue.

Dr Morando added: “International students contribute to the economy, help to fund universities, and can enrich the experiences of all university students, by contributing to the diversity of the student body.”



Media contact

Chris Lane

Tel: +44 (0)20 7679 9222 / +44 (0)7717 728 648

Email: chris.lane [at] ucl.ac.uk