The most common nationality of overseas student involved in UK university start-ups is Chinese © Alamy

Almost sixty per cent of British university start-ups have founders who came to study in the UK from other countries, underlining the importance of international students to the education sector.

Research into 545 start-ups by Creator Fund, a venture capital firm that specialises in backing university spinouts, found that 57 per cent had at least one foreign founder.

The start-ups surveyed were also more ethnically diverse and geographically dispersed across the UK than new ventures in general.

Of the founders, 40 per cent were female, compared to only 25 per cent of high-growth companies measured by tracker Beauhurst. Almost half of the student start-ups in the Creator Fund research had a black, Asian or other minority ethnic founder.

“Perhaps, the very act of travelling across the world to study shows an appetite for risk necessary to be a founder,” the report said.

Eight of the top 15 universities for creating student start-ups are from outside south-east England, with a significant amount of activity in Scotland, according to the report.

The most common nationality of overseas student involved in UK university start-ups is Chinese. China sends significantly more students to UK campuses than other countries.

Canadian students are also well represented: they create the same number of start-ups as French or German students, even though there are many fewer of them.

“Our view is that there is no better place to start a business than university because you have access to talent, which is usually hard to get, you have the time to develop ideas and you have access to experts among the teaching staff,” said James Macfarlane, founder and CEO of Creator Fund, said.

“Students are also often at a time in their lives where they are having big ideas and are willing to take risks.”

The findings show the importance of encouraging students to come and study in the UK, Mr Macfarlane added, noting that the recent reinstatement of two-year work visas for overseas students who complete courses in the UK had been “absolutely massive” in maintaining this inward flow.

Tensions between the UK and China were a concern however, he said. “Chinese students are absolutely key . . . and it is key that we keep attracting new students to the UK,” Mr Macfarlane said.

“The brand of British universities is a major selling point for the UK.”

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