If country A’s currency becomes less valuable with respect to the UK, then their cost for goods from the UK goes up — and, everything else being equal, the number of sales drops. When politicians, economists and city commentators talk about how currency exchange rates might affect the UK’s exports, their words are generally illustrated by manufacturing names: the sales of Jags and Land Rovers to China, for example. Well, no one is too worried: both the Telegraph and Guardian note that only 4-5% of UK exports go to China, so the overall effect on the economy will be modest.
However, there is one industry whose exports disproportionately go to China: higher education. We are not used to thinking of this as an export industry, but that it is — and a very successful one at that. Not only are there more Chinese students studying in the UK than students from the whole of the EU, but there are also as many Chinese students as the next five biggest non-EU nations combined. (See also this comment piece in the THE.) All in all, roughly 20% of all non-UK students are from China. It follows, again roughly, that a ten percent drop in the number of Chinese students in the UK would be a £140m annual loss to UK Universities in tuition fee terms, and as much again in associated economic activity. But of course the direct financial cost is not the only thing here: also a long-term loss would be cultural and political connections between the UK and China, that aids both prosperity and peace. I would like to know what the UK government is doing to help what could easily be a crisis in the higher education sector (other than macho posturing on immigration targets, which hardly helps)?