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  • Leveraging quality education to attract international students and foster economic growth

Inviting international students to study helps universities enhance their global reputation that leads to their higher rankings and greater international recognition and prestige of the host country. Countries with low economic growth often invite foreign students to study, reaping multiple benefits including direct and indirect economic gains, enhanced educational quality and strengthened international relations. These advantages collectively contribute to the economic development and global integration of the host country.

Economic benefits

International students contribute significantly to the economy through tuition fees, accommodation, living expenses, and other expenditures. They pay higher tuition fees compared to local students. Tuition fees from foreign students are a major source of income of the UK universities. Their annual tuition fees for international students range from £10,000 to over £40,000, depending on the course and institution. This influx of money supports local businesses and create jobs. The payments made by these students in foreign currencies helps improve the foreign exchange reserves of the country. Moreover, increased enrolment of foreign students provides financial stability and funding for universities, enabling them to invest in better facilities, infrastructure, research, faculty and improving educational quality.

Indirect economic impact

Families and friends of foreign students regularly visit the host country, which boosts the tourism industry as they spend on hotels, restaurants, transport, and sightseeing. To attract foreign students, educational institutions and the government invest in improving infrastructure, such as better classrooms, laboratories, libraries, and recreational facilities. This not only benefits students but also the local community.

Educational quality improvement

The presence of international students encourages universities to offer more globally relevant curricula and programmes, which drives up the standards of education as institutions strive to meet global expectations. This leads to improvements in the quality of education and attracts even more international students.

Diplomatic-ties strengthening

Hosting international students can foster better diplomatic relations with their home countries. These students often become informal ambassadors for the host country, promoting positive bilateral ties. They bring diverse perspectives and experiences, enriching the educational environment and promoting cross-cultural understanding. The presence of international students raises global connections and partnerships, facilitating international research collaborations and academic exchanges. Graduating foreign students expand the alumni network of the university globally, which can lead to increased opportunities for international partnerships, donations, and global influence.

Universities in the UK, USA, and other developed nations also invite international students. In the last academic year, US universities generated more than $4 billion from international students. This substantial figure underscores the significant economic contribution that international students make to the US economy.

China has recently increased its efforts to attract international students, particularly in the fields of medicine and dentistry. According to recent estimates, there are over 75,000 international students enrolled in medical and dental schools in China, each paying around $12,000 annually as tuition fees. This signifies a significant amount of revenue earned in foreign currency through medical and dental education.

These universities earned international recognition through the quality education they provide to their students. In yesteryear, Pakistan has welcomed students, especially in health sciences, from countries like Palestine, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Malaysia, Indonesia, Mauritius, and Afghanistan, as their degrees were recognised in their respective countries. As of 2024, Pakistan hosts approximately 114 recognised medical and dental colleges according to the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council. However, foreign student admissions have dwindled for unknown reasons. Collaboration among all stakeholders — including the government, medical and dental associations, and university administrations — is essential to implement reforms aimed at simplifying the admission process and prioritizing quality education. This requires rigorous accreditation processes to ensure dental/medical institutions meet the established standards for education, infrastructure, and faculty expertise.

Continuous monitoring and evaluation mechanisms should be put in place to track the performance and progress of dental/medical programmes, promoting accountability and continuous improvement. Quality education will attract more international students and children of overseas Pakistanis, including those with foreign citizenship, providing them the opportunity to earn degrees comparable to those from Western universities at a substantially low cost. This could restore Pakistan’s appeal as a study destination, boosting the economy and reducing unemployment among local medical and dental graduates, as foreign students would not compete for local jobs.

The Author is Dean, Faculty of Dentistry, Baqai Medical University