The funding sources for research conducted at UK institutions are usually required to be disclosed. The terms "research councils," "charity organizations," and "medical foundations" are all familiar. One sort of donor, however, is not included in newspapers, websites, structures, or endowed chair names.

In 2020, the Higher Education Policy Institute published a report on cross-subsidization from teaching to research. Director Nick Hillman, who is known for being open about the financial realities of higher education, recently pointed out that UK university research is underfunded in comparison to its genuine costs in a manner that few, even inside the sector, realized. The aggregate deficit in the UK was £4.3 billion, with £3.7 billion in England and Northern Ireland accounting for a quarter of the total.

So, what had universities done to fill the void? The solution was the international student price system. After teaching costs are deducted, there is a surplus of over £5,000 per student, which is used to fund not only the construction or renovation of facilities, but also the direct costs of the research that produces the research excellence and reputations that draw so many students to the UK in the first place. Currently, sponsors only recoup around half of the cost of teaching a domestic PhD in the United Kingdom, and only 72% of real research expenditures.

We should at the very least double-check our assumptions. To begin with, the budget deficit is not fixed; it is growing. Since the release of the HEPI report, university budgets have been placed under even greater hardship. Domestic tuition fees are now frozen, resulting in another real-terms decline, making them worth a third less than when they were initially introduced in 2012: a level that routinely falls short of paying expenses today. And now we're dealing with the damaging consequences of inflation, notably in energy costs; the cost of sustaining the hot or cold temperatures essential for so much scientific study is steadily growing. We should be aware that, in order to maintain the output and impact of International Students on UK university research, we may need to seek extra public financing.

Second, supply is based on demand. International prices, as well as the international flow of bright graduates who work in UK laboratories and research groups, are not assured. The persistent effect of the epidemic in China, as well as travel limitations for Chinese students, warn us that international people movements may be hindered.

On issues such as visa fees and work placements, as well as greater cultural awareness in mental health services and genuinely global career assistance, UK authorities must include the goals and views of international students. The International Student Charter, which is being developed with students by the UK Council for Student Affairs, would promote long-term participation and responsiveness in the sector.

The United Kingdom is on pace to reach its international student targets, and its International Education Strategy aims to maintain that momentum. So far, the main action has been to reintroduce post-study work, which is a cross-departmental government initiative including not just the Department of Education but also the Department of International Trade and the Home Office. Throughout COVID, the government shown crucial flexibility in relation to international students.

Families in Beijing and Bangalore, Kigali and Kuala Lumpur who are ready to spend so much in their children's education owe a debt of appreciation to the institutions that are celebrating their success in the Research Excellence Framework this week.

We must, however, ensure that our investment in UK university research continues to give the highest possible return on investment.

It's past time for us to address our debt to overseas students. And we need to pay greater attention to what they want in return in our policymaking.