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Early this month, the ran a story about an increase in international students in some medical schools as, concurrently, the number of UK-born students is seemingly on the decline.
As part of the article I was delighted to reassert our position that studying medicine should be attainable for all, no matter their background. This isn’t currently the case – 80% of medical students come from only 20% of UK schools. We need to widen participation in medicine, so our workforce represents the population we’ll serve. The experiences and insight of every one of us is valuable and unique, and we exclude people from our profession to our own detriment.
This, of course, includes international students. In an increasingly diverse and vibrant UK, international students contribute wholesale to our campuses, our communities and our NHS. 14% of clinical staff and 26% of doctors in the NHS are of an international origin. These figures underline how valuable the contributions of international citizens are to our health service.
In the UK, we’re lucky to have world-class medical education delivered by some of the world’s most prestigious universities. The number of international students who want to study in the UK is a testament to our success, and by choosing to build their lives here – by choosing a long-lasting degree programme and foundation training – international medical students offer us expertise, cultural diversity and new perspectives that enrich us all.
Currently, UK medical schools are restricted to an international intake of 7.5%. This is not a large number – in comparison, 40% of postgraduate students are international students. However, the percentage could change in the future as the Government has proposed removing the cap on international student numbers.
Any situation where UK students were disadvantaged while international students were exploited for their higher fees would be detrimental to all, but there is no evidence that the rising number of international students is linked to a downturn in UK offers.
As well as removing the cap, the Government would also like to remove the funding for international students’ compulsory clinical placements in secondary care. Without this funding, international students would have to fund the placements themselves, driving up their fees to even higher levels than they’re already charged.
This is already the case in Scotland, where an additional £10,000-per-year ACT (additional cost of teaching) levy has been imposed. A potential tariff for introduction in England has been estimated at twice that amount, with no indication of how the final cost of a clinical placement is to be calculated or how the money is to be spent.
This is an ill-thought-out plan that completely disregards the rights, welfare and contributions of international students, and is something the BMA is working hard to overturn in Parliament. It is our view that international students already pay above the odds for their course and that all reasonable expenses are covered in their already extortionate fees. With the amount of money that international students already bring to the economy (£14bn, projected to rise to £25bn by 2025), the economics of the proposal don’t make sense – it would make the UK a much less hospitable place to study, and we’d all end up out of pocket.
Finally, we know the NHS is currently suffering a workforce crisis, with low morale, derisory pay increases and an exodus of EU doctors contributing to a state of year-round ‘winter crisis’. If we are to encourage medical students – both from the UK and elsewhere in the world – to stay and work here, we must campaign to rectify these issues so the health service is once again seen as a fulfilling, supportive and welcoming place to work.
This includes improving working conditions and pay, and campaigning for a streamlined immigration system that allows international doctors to contribute fully to the NHS without the pressures and caveats currently levelled their way.
It is clear that international students are a valuable and valued component of our education and our workforce, and any attempt to devalue them or falsely paint them as taking places from ‘home’ students should be resisted and refuted. We’re continuing to fight on behalf of all our members, irrespective of where they call home.
Has the proposal of a placement tariff of £20,000 per year been passed by the Parliament? I am a potential international student considering a medical education in England.
Exploitation of medical international students is a double-edged sword. It may increase the NHS income a little but definitely reduce number of foreign doctors graduating from UK medicine schools. International students already paying three times more than UK/EU students. Imposing another 10K pound levy makes it 4 times more.
Outsourcing medical students will only bring issues because the salaries will significantly drop.
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As a foreign student, I was well received. I was treated with respect and understanding, for all the time I studied I had no conflicts. This helped me successfully complete my studies and return home to Chile in the city of Santiago where I went to work as a pediatrician (www.consultapediatrica.cl/). I hope the attitude towards foreign students will only improve and adapt.