Public Holds Positive View of International Students



In our recent polling for the Russell Group, we asked 1,064 UK residents about their views on higher education and international students. The results indicate that the public greatly value the higher education sector, and disagree with the government’s approach of restricting international students’ entry to the UK as a means of cutting immigration figures.

The UK’s universities consistently rank highly in polling on the global performance of British economic sectors, and the story remains the same in this research. When asked how various economic sectors in the UK perform versus the rest of the world, higher education came top, with 45% of respondents saying it was stronger or far stronger than the rest of the world, closely followed by financial services at 44%.

Arguments have been made in the press that international students are having an increasingly negative effect on the UK’s higher education: it has been alleged that universities are too reliant on them for fees; that students from abroad have more lenient entry requirements; that they’re squeezing out domestic students from attending top universities; and even that students from certain countries, such as China, are undermining national security.

However, these arguments seem to have had little effect on the British public’s perception of international students: 51% believe international students have a positive or very positive impact on the UK, including students who stay in the UK to work after completing their studies. In addition to this, 54% agree that more international students demonstrate the prestige of UK universities, 52% that it would support the higher education sector, and 50% that it would help the UK economy.

As of January this year, the government has changed student visas to no longer permit them to bring dependents with them to the UK. Since this change, the number of student visas issued has fallen by a 1/3rd. The Home Secretary James Cleverly has launched a review into the ‘right to work’ visas offered to international students, with the goal assumed to be to tighten the eligibility criteria, or to reduce the length (currently 2 years).

Results from this survey show that the public would not approve of this approach. When asked “If the government were to reduce the number of international students coming to the UK, which of the following would be likely to happen?”, 51% of respondents said that domestic tuition fees would increase, 45% said that local economies will suffer, and 39% that there will be fewer courses on offer for domestic students. Only 19% said that the work visa is too long; in fact, almost as many people (17%) said it should be even longer.

Instead, when asked which approach the government should prioritise to reduce immigration, the public overwhelmingly went with the obvious choice – to stop illegal immigration (57%). Only 4% said they should reduce the numbers of international students, which was even fewer than the 6% who said that no groups entering the UK should be reduced at all.

Respondents’ answers to other questions in this poll tell us why this might be the case: they see international students as beneficial to the UK in both economic (43%) and non-economic (30%) terms. And, as shown above, they fear that reducing their numbers will damage the UK’s enormously important higher education sector, reducing opportunities for domestic students and diminishing the UK’s global prestige.

The purported reliance of universities on tuition fees from international students is a view shared by most (54%) respondents. However, something which may surprise many is how this is not considered to be a problem by most people – 58% said they think that universities should be allowed to attract fees from international students, compared to just 7% who disagreed.

The impression left by this research is that the public considers the government’s clamping down on international students to be an exercise in cutting off their nose to spite their face – putting even greater strain on one of the UK’s best performing sectors in order to produce small, short-term reductions in immigration figures.


Get the data

Survation conducted an online poll of 1,064 adults aged 18+ in the UK. Fieldwork was conducted between 22nd – 25th April 2024. Tables are available here.


Survation. is an MRS company partner, a member of the British Polling Council and abides by their rules. To find out more about Survation’s services, and how you can conduct a telephone or online poll for your research needs, please visit our services page.

If you are interested in commissioning research or to learn more about Survation’s research capabilities, please contact John Gibb on 020 3818 9661, email, or visit our services page.

For press enquiries, please call 0203 818 9661 or email

< Back