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International students’ contribution goes beyond the economic benefit

8th June 2023

British universities are recognised internationally for their leading research, creative teaching methods and stimulating learning environments. So, it is no surprise that the UK is the second most popular study destination for international students, behind the US. But a diverse student population can bring other benefits to the North East.

International students are an essential part of life in Newcastle: each year, the city welcomes thousands of students from across the world to study here, attracted by the world-class education provided by the two universities, the rich heritage of the city and wider region, vibrant cultural life and lower cost of living compared to other UK cities.

Between them, Northumbria and Newcastle universities host almost 18,000 overseas students from more than 140 countries. Studying alongside domestic students at all levels, they bring a range of global perspectives not just to our lecture halls and labs – but also to our wider communities.

A report published in May by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and Universities UK (UUK) showed that nationally the net economic impact of international students rose to  £41.9 billion in 2021/22. But international students in the UK – and the North East – contribute in so many more ways than financially.

International students contribute hugely to their local communities, getting involved in a wide range of cultural activities, many of which they have helped to establish, often in partnership with local voluntary and community organisations. This sharing of knowledge and ideas is a vital part of the education and student experience the two universities in Newcastle provide.

Nerius Shah

Nerius Shah studied for a Master’s degree in healthcare management at Northumbria University and will become the University’s first international Students’ Union President when he formally takes his post in July. Nerius, who is from India, is responsible for ensuring all students at Northumbria, both home and international, are well-represented and supported during their time at university.

“I am proud to live in Newcastle, a city that is home to so many international students,” said Nerius. “Personally, I chose the UK as my study destination because of the wholesome educational experience it had to offer. And I think that was the greatest decision of my life.

“The UK has a lot to offer for international students, a world-class education, a vibrant cultural experience, and an opening to a global career. And in return, they provide valuable friendship and support for the community, and they help to create a more exciting, diverse and inclusive society.

“They enrich the country’s culture, and they also make a notable contribution to the local economy. In addition, international students also make valuable input to breaking down cultural barriers and challenging students’ thinking, encouraging them to see the world from different perspectives.”

This is a point backed up by Sára Kozáková, a postgraduate student at Newcastle University. Sára, from Slovakia, spoke at the launch of the HEPI and UUK report and underlined that the contribution of international students goes way beyond their financial impact.

“Every student who comes to the UK from a different country with the intention of pursuing a degree, learning something new and getting a higher education qualification, also unconsciously givesback to the community by being here, interacting with others and bringing a new worldview,” says Sára, who’s studying a Master’s degree in Cross-Cultural Communication and Media Studies.

“I moved to the UK because I was fascinated by the multicultural society and co-existence of multiple cultures, religions and nationalities in one place. It’s unique, and really precious, to live in a country where you can experience and learn from so many cultures without ever needing to travel far. There are almost 700.000 international students in the UK now, and every one has a differentset of experiences, different culture and different way of living that they bring to their community.”

Even after graduating, many overseas students continue to make a valuable contribution.  Northumbria University graduate Cory Shee, from Hong Kong, was supported by Northumbria University’s Graduate Futures team when she set up her Newcastle-based business, Life Kombucha. Kombucha, a type of fermented tea which originated in Northeast China, is known for having many health benefits. Cory’s recipe has been inspired by her family in Hong Kong and was passed down by her grandparents. The tea is available in cafes and venues across the North East as well as being available to buy online at lifekombucha.uk. And Cory’s business partner, Helen Ree, from South Korea, is also a Northumbria University graduate, who has launched another successful business in Newcastle called Kimchi Planet. A restaurant that serves Korean street food, Kimchi Planet was featured on an episode of The Hairy Bikers Go North in 2021.

Similarly, Johnson Fernandes, from India, used the knowledge and expertise he gained studying for his PhD in Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Newcastle University to set up Equiwatt, with help from one of the university’s START UP Founderships. After experiencing first-hand a number of power cuts, he saw the opportunity to reward consumers for cutting their usage at peak times and help them shift it to times when cleaner, renewable energy is more abundant. The company now employs seven people at its headquarters in Gateshead.

Rob Carthy, International Director at Northumbria University, says: “Our students bring a wide range of social and cultural benefits to the region. “They also benefit our home students by enriching the research and learning environment, while helping UK students develop internationally relevant skills. Overseas students bring wider economic benefits by boosting trade links – as international graduates return home and become ambassadors for the region. Overseas researchers and PhD students also play a vital role in continually refreshing Northumbria and Newcastle’s research base, and in developing our position as a world-leading research city.”

The sentiment is echoed by Professor Richard Davies, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Global and Sustainability, at Newcastle University, who says: “The fact our universities attract people from around the world is a resounding success story. It enriches the learning environment for students, supports the provision of high-quality education and research, and strengthens our universities’ offer for employers.

“Our focus in the UK should now be on maintaining our position as a leading study destination for international students and fostering sustainable growth from a wide range of countries.”

North East businesses benefit from the expertise and talent of international students as graduates can stay and work for two years - three for PhD students - in the UK once they have completed their studies. Skilled and qualified international graduates can work in industry, across all levels and disciplines, without organisations having to financially sponsor them. This leads to a higher skilled labour market and the opportunity for businesses to explore new export markets, further contributing to UK economic growth.

In its International Education Strategy published in 2019, the government set out its commitment and ambitions for increasing education exports to £35 billion per year, increasing the numbers of international higher education students studying in the UK to 600,000 per year and enhancing the international student experience from application to employment.

Together, Newcastle’s two universities have a global community of almost half a million alumni from all over the world and on graduating, most return home, taking with them fond memories of Britain, and the North East. 

Sarah Green, Chief Executive, NewcastleGateshead Initiative, said: “At its core, Newcastle is a student city, and international students make up a significant proportion of our thriving student population.

“We recognise the immense value these students bring not just to our universities but also to our local economy and community. International students are not just students, they are drivers of inclusive economic growth and cultural enrichment. They contribute significantly to the places they choose to study, strengthening the local talent pool, introducing new cultural experiences and creating diverse, vibrant destinations that people want to visit.

“Local businesses also benefit from a more heterogeneous skills base, with the thousands of international students who come to our region every year bringing extensive second language skills that employers need to tap into the global marketplace.

“International students act as proud ambassadors for our city and play a pivotal role in building bridges across borders, ultimately strengthening our ties with communities across the world.”

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