17 July 2018

Global postgraduate talent crucial to UK research

A CGHE research findings paper published today reveals the importance of international postgraduates to the UK’s research sector.

In the paper, Dr Ludovic Highman and Professor Simon Marginson from the UCL Institute of Education look at the extent to which UK universities’ research power depends on a global supply of high quality postgraduate research students.

They point out that international student numbers are exceptionally high at postgraduate research level in the UK as universities are currently able to pick and choose from the world’s top academic talent.

Overall, almost one third of the UK’s postgraduate research population comes from countries outside the European Union (EU) and almost 15 per cent from other countries within the EU. The proportion of international postgraduates in STEM subjects and at Russell Group universities is even higher. In some universities, such as Oxford and Cambridge, over half of all postgraduate research students are international.

UK universities depend on non-UK postgraduate research students to enhance their research capacity and teaching excellence, according to the paper. In STEM research, for example, a key part of the government’s Industrial Strategy, non-UK students are vital as the home supply of postgraduate STEM talent is insufficient.

The researchers warn that should the potential supply of high quality postgraduate research students falter, whether due to Brexit or due to restrictive policies on international students, not only will UK universities suffer, the country will suffer. The effects of a decline in the flow of top-drawer talent won’t show themselves quickly. But in the long term it would undermine scientific excellence, innovation and industrial productivity.