15 November 2021

The ‘Unsung Heroes’ of a multi-billion-pound industry

International students

Most people who live in East Sussex will be aware of the normally large number of overseas students who enjoy our hospitality and beautiful, historic towns, either in the summer or year-round. But, not so many people will be aware of their economic contribution to the UK.

A recent piece of research published in The Guardian (9/9/21) stated that one year’s intake of international students at UK universities is worth £390 for every person in the UK and that just ten international students will contribute £1m to the UK economy during a three-year degree. When the additional students from colleges and language schools are added, this makes the UK’s international education industry worth well over £26bn.

Despite the pandemic limiting global travel, East Sussex College has continued to recruit students from a wide range of countries. In this article, international director, Mark Allen, explained how it all works and the critical role of the network of local host families and businesses.

“We’ve been delivering programmes to overseas learners in Hastings, Eastbourne and Lewes for 30 years and in that time we’ve seen a lot of changes. But one thing that hasn’t changed, is the appeal of East Sussex and the welcome our students get in the towns. People in Hastings, Eastbourne and Lewes have been welcoming overseas students for many years and are familiar with the economic boost the towns get especially in the summer.”

Mark continued, “When I first started in Lewes back in 1996 it was English language courses that were growing. Sadly, that has declined at the moment due to the pandemic, but we have been surprised at the tenacity of students to come even during the pandemic for other types of programmes. We’ve seen a growth in students who want an ‘academic gap year’ experience. They come and join academic and vocational courses before returning to complete education in their home country which reflects the increasing level of English ability in many countries.

“We also have students who come to us for a two-year course before moving to a UK university -some of these will study in the UK for five or six years before returning home having contributed a six-figure sum to the UK economy through tuition fees, host family payments, and through using local services such as food outlets, taxis and hotels for family visits.

“I’m very lucky to have a very experienced team and our College has a very inclusive ethos but the unsung heroes of this billion-pound industry are the local host families. They provide a really critical part of the student’s experience. British Council research showed that the issue that international students rate as the most important is where they live: put simply, if they don’t feel happy where they live, nothing else really matters.

“Not only are the host families providing a comfortable and friendly home for students who may be experiencing culture shock and homesickness, they are also unofficial ambassadors for the UK,” said Mark. “The families show our students the history and culture of East Sussex, and allow international students to see what makes the UK tick from living within a local family.

“Many of the long-term international students are from quite wealthy families and they are aspirational about their own careers – so when they return home and move into employment, they keep their fond attachment to East Sussex and bring great ‘soft power’ to the UK whether by doing business with East Sussex or by promoting the UK and bringing family and friends back for holidays.

“We believe that our students also give something in return by providing diversity and vibrancy to the local communities - and through giving local families an opportunity to learn about their country and culture. Sometimes even a holiday back to the student’s home country!"

One of our experienced hosts, Davina said, ‘It’s a lovely experience. You get to know the students really well and it’s exciting talking to them about where they come from and their culture. I highly recommend being a host as you get so much out of it.’”

Mark concluded, “It’s lovely to hear the feedback from our hosts without whom the UK would be £26bn worse off!”

If you are interested in talking to East Sussex College about being a host family contact, please reach out to:

Lewes: sarah.perrin@escg.ac.uk

Hastings & Eastbourne: accommodation.esbnandhst@escg.ac.uk

International Director at East Sussex College, Mark Allen, spoke with Sarah Gorrell on BBC Radio Sussex on the 23rd November, as did Davina Wakelin who has hosted ESC's international students over many years.

Interview provided courtesy of BBC Radio Sussex.