International students enrich us all and reducing their numbers makes us poorer writes Diane Abbott MP.
The Financial Times reported in January that “new visa rules [are being] blamed for fall in overseas students intake,” with the story reflecting that whilst currently Britain continues to be one of the most attractive destinations in the world for international students, latest recruitment figures show that we have seen a slowdown in recent years.
In response to these latest developments, elected mayors from across the country wrote an open letter highlighting the profound and positive impact international students have on our cities and regions, and the need for the government to have a more positive approach in this area.
Currently, around 230,000 students arrive here annually for university courses, mostly postgraduates.
More and more evidence shows that international students are a vital source of export earnings for Britain, as well as a source of investment in towns and cities across the country.
According to Universities UK, the umbrella organisation for Vice Chancellors, non-EU international students make up 13 per cent of universities’ revenues.
A recent report from the Higher Education Policy Institute outlined in detail just how much international students contribute to the economy. The report showed that international students generate a net economic benefit of more than £20bn for the UK economy, and outlines how international students bring economic benefits that are worth 10 times the costs of hosting them.
In 2014-15 this meant that international students supported more than 200,000 jobs, including not only through tuition fees, but also through spending that supports local businesses and helping encourage tourism.
This is a sum of over £300 pounds a year for every British resident from international students.
But as the aforementioned letter from the mayors pointed out, these benefits are not just economic, but cultural and societal as well.
International students enrich us socially and culturally, enriching our university campuses and the experience of UK students.
Some of international also ask to stay on after their studies, and again then make an important contribution to our living standards. The NHS is just one sector which would collapse without the contribution of overseas students who come here to study and then stay on to work.
We need to send a more open and welcoming message to international students. In contrast, the current Tory approach is damaging Britain in this area, and suggests they see international students as a drain on the economy and society.
India’s Hindustan Times , to give just one example, recently argued that Britain had many top universities, “but they also offer the most student-hostile government in the world.”
Instead, we should be trying as hard as possible to make Britain as attractive a place as possible for international students, especially considering the challenges our higher education sector and economy face due to the Brexit process.
There is a growing consensus that it is time to remove students from immigration targets – calls which have been supported by Labour, many Tories, key components of the higher education sector and many others in recent months.
As home secretary and then Prime Minister Theresa May has been a vocal advocate of including international students in the official data, and many have long argued that this has been guided politically by wanting to be seen as anti-immigration rather than guided by what is best for Britain.
Indeed, it was repeatedly argued by Theresa May’s supporters in this area that there were large numbers of international students who overstayed their visas and so contributed to the breach of their immigration target. But the evidence has showed that these claims - that have been repeated ad nauseam for a number years by some right-wing media outlets and Tory politicians – are both false.
In reality, all the mounting evidence that the policy of including international students in the total immigration data, and then subjecting them to the same irrational net migration target, is completely counter-productive.
In terms of both public opinion and in the political debate, the government is clearly in a minority on this issue. Indeed, research shows that just 20 per cent of adults believe foreign students count as immigrants and 59 per cent oppose efforts to reduce their numbers.
Universities UK, the teaching unions, the National Union of Students and many local authorities representing university towns have made clear their stance on this issue and have urged the government to change course, yet when it comes to his issue, it seems that the Prime Minister is too weak to accept she is in the wrong.
In contrast, Labour believes international students are welcome here.
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