International students are worth £170m to the Northern Ireland economy, according to a report from the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI).
However, Northern Ireland has by far the lowest share of international students of any UK region.
In 2015/16, 2,445 international students started undergraduate or postgraduate courses in NI.
The analysis of their economic impact was carried out by London Economics and published by HEPI.
It looked at the economic benefits and costs associated with the 231,065 international students who started university courses across the UK in 2015/16.
The analysis calculated the financial contribution of overseas students, such as spending on tuition fees, accommodation and other living expenses.
It balanced that against costs including university teaching, the extra pressure on local services and non-repayment of loans.
The study suggests that international students from outside the EU are worth £95,000 each to the UK economy for the duration of their study.
Those students typically pay much higher tuition fees than local, EU or UK students – as high as £37,000 per year for some medical courses in Northern Ireland.
HEPI also carried out a breakdown of the economic impact of international students by each UK region and parliamentary constituency.
Although London has the highest number, Sheffield Central was the UK constituency estimated to benefit most from international student spending.
In Northern Ireland, South Belfast was the constituency judged to benefit most as the highest number of international students lived there.
The report estimates they brought a net benefit of £29m into the area’s economy.
However, a number of Northern Ireland constituencies were among the areas of the UK where the economic impact of international students was lowest.
There were 10 NI constituencies among the 20 in the UK who, the study said, benefited least from their presence and spending.
They were South Down, North Belfast, Fermanagh and South Tyrone, North Antrim, West Tyrone, Lagan Valley, South Antrim, East Belfast, Strangford and North Down.
Responding to the report, Olivia Potter-Hughes, president of the NUS-USI (National Union of Students – Union of Students in Ireland) said that students’ concerns about Brexit must be acted upon to try to ensure there is no decrease in international students in Northern Ireland.
“We want to ensure that Northern Ireland and the UK is welcoming and attracts as many international and EU students as possible,” she said.
“International students must not be seen as cash cows and we are worried that international student fees could rise as a result of Brexit as these students may be cynically used to make up for any loss of EU research and other funding.”
Meanwhile, figures published separately by Northern Ireland’s two universities show that non-EU international students now account for just over £28m of their income in fees and grants.
Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) accounts show international students generated £25.3m in fees and grants in 2016/17, up from £22.3m in 2015/16.
Ulster University (UU) received just under £2.8m in overseas student fees in 2016/17, around £500,000 less than in 2015/16.
According to figures published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) QUB had 2,125 non-EU international students in 2016/17 while UU had 685.