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Overseas students work harder than home students and bring long-term benefits to British universities and home students, according to a new study.
This gives the lie to the notion that overseas students come to the UK for reasons other than work, says a report on the survey by the Higher Education Institute (HEPI) and the Higher Education Academy (HEA).
“Those who fear international students harm the student experience of home students are wrong,” said HEPI’s director Nick Hillman. “In fact, they enhance it. We put that at risk when we fail to recognise the benefits that internationalisation brings to the UK higher education sector.”
The research, which questioned a representative sample of 1,009 students, found that students believe they benefit in many ways from studying alongside people from other countries – although the benefits are clearer to international than British students.
A large majority said that it gives them a better worldview, making them more aware of cultural sensitivities and helping them develop a global network.
“Without a healthy number of international students, it is likely that some courses would be uneconomic to run, classroom discussions would be excessively monocultural and graduates would have a more limited outlook,” said Mr Hillman.
The survey is an attempt to break the stalemate between the Home Office and other government agencies over student migration by highlighting the advantages of having multicultural student bodies.
The vast majority of undergraduates (86 per cent) in the UK study alongside international students, according to the study.
The survey found that most students (54 per cent) think overseas students work harder than home students. Only 4 per cent think they work less hard.
The results vary according to where the students come from with 52 per cent of home students, 67 per cent of EU students and 69 per cent of non-EU international students saying overseas students work harder than UK students.
More than three-quarters said that studying alongside people from other countries is useful preparation for working in a global environment. Students from other countries, however, were more than twice as likely to strongly agree with this statement.
One-quarter of students think international students need more attention from lecturers and slow down the class because of language difficulties, but two-thirds disagree that the presence of overseas students slows down discussion.
The majority of students do not mind where their lecturers come from, but students in the North East are the least favourable towards overseas staff, with 6 per cent wanting to have some lecturers from abroad and 17 per cent hoping they do not. The Scottish are noticeably more favourable.
Commenting on the findings, Gordon Slaven, British Council Head of Higher Education: "It is encouraging to see such compelling evidence of the value of having a diverse student body in our universities. Most UK students recognise that having their international peers studying with them helps them to broaden their horizons, and helps them to better understand the importance of global skills in the job market.
“This of course is in addition to the often lifelong friendships that are made at university. If international students know that their UK peers welcome them, and recognise the value of their presence in their own development, it can only make the UK more attractive and welcoming as a study destination."
Maddalaine Ansell, Chief Executive of University Alliance, welcomed the findings, but warned that government’s plans for a further crackdown on immigration could harm the UK’s standing as one of the world’s most popular study destinations.
She said: “We will be following the work of the Prime Minister's new immigration task group closely. Bringing net migration down to the 'tens of thousands' will have an impact on the numbers of international students – affecting the attractiveness of our universities and reducing the skills available to the UK economy.”
Shadow universities minister Liam Byrne commented: “If we want to lead the world in science, research and new technologies then the free movement of students and scientists is key. Today’s research from HEPI show that our home students know that already.
"We have to ensure that our country is connected to the best brainpower, wherever it happens to be born. If we want to lead the world then we must look again at the current post-study work visa arrangements.”
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