Universities UK, which represents 134 vice chancellors, has warned including international students in immigration figures and new student visa restrictions is putting British Universities and the British economy at risk. Experts have predicted that the potential reduction of 50,000 international students a year arising from such a move would cost the UK as much as £4-6 billion.
The Institute for Public Policy Research alleges this system of measuring students enables the government to capitalise on reaching its 2015 net migration target and would reduce the number of international students coming to the UK in 2012-14.
The UK’s immigration minister Damian Green believes international students should be counted as migrants because significant numbers stay. IPPR researchers claim 15% of overseas students stay on to work permanently in Britain and only this 15 per cent should be included in net migration figures.
The Home office’s push to reduce the number of overseas students who come to Britain annually is an attempt to reduce annual net migration from its current level of around 250,000 a year to below 100,000, in time for the 2015 general election. This is a short-sighted vote-grabbing policy and, in the long term, economically disadvantageous.
There appears to be a misunderstanding of the positive contribution international students make towards both regional and national economies. The UK benefits culturally and academically from international students and indirectly from trade and international relationships. The government should cut student numbers out of its official migration figures. If these immigration policies are not modified we risk reducing the numbers of short-term visitors who are vital culturally, academically and economically to the UK.
Mr Green has told MPs that he disagrees with the argument that students are not migrants. “Under longstanding international measures, students and others who come to the UK for more than a year are counted as migrants. I agree that not all students remain permanently but significant numbers do.”
International students currently contribute £5 billion a year to the UK economy and analysts predict this figure could increase to £17 billion by 2025. Mr Green alleges that more than 23,000 migrants granted the right to settle in 2009 had arrived in the UK as a student.
Every international student is estimated to be worth more than £15,000 to the UK in fees and living expenses. Whilst British undergraduates currently pay £3,350 a year for tuition, an international student can be charged up to £22,000 annually for a degree in the sciences, while postgraduate science courses can cost up to £25,000.
The Home Office’s visa policies risk Britain’s international reputation and economic development, and deters students from applying and enriching our universities. During these tough economic times we should be attracting international students, not deterring them.