There is ‘quite a lot of tension’ among coalition partners in the David Cameron government on the issue of visa for students from India and other non-EU countries, according to Business secretary Vince Cable, who is due visit India shortly.
Delivering the first Sarat Bose Memorial Lecture at Lincoln’s Inn in London on Saturday, Cable, whose party, the Liberal Democrats, favours an ‘open, welcoming approach’ to international students, said there was ‘deep disagreement in our coalition’ in this area.
Education, he said, was one of the key aspects of India-UK economic relationship. Trade between the two countries was small, but in recent years investment in each other’s countries had become more significant than trade, he said.
“Education is also a business. UK universities have become more business-like in recent years. The student visa has been tightened, but there is a perception issue in India that UK no longer welcomes students, which is not true at all”, he said.
The number of Indian students coming to the UK has fallen considerably in recent years, mainly due to the closure of the post-study work visa, which enabled self-financing students to recover some of the costs of studying by working after completing courses and gaining work experience.
Cable said he was in favour of reinstating the post-study work visa, and admitted that there was much tension with the coalition partner, Conservative party. The Home Office, led by Theresa May, had a different view of the issue, he said.
Cable, who is due to make two visits to India this year, expressed optimism about continuing growth in economic relations between the two countries, particularly in the area of infrastructure in India.
India’s deputy high commissioner Varinder Paul, sounded a note of caution amidst the celebration of long-standing India-UK ties. He did not identify the sticking points between the two countries, but seemed to refer to recent developments in the UK related to Jammu & Kashmir and Punjab, which have riled Indian sensitivities.
“From time to time, we find that there are certain tendencies in certain sections of the society, which are not in the interest of our strong relations. We need to watch out and be mindful of any such efforts. We should not allow any such tendencies to succeed. And this is our shared responsibility”, Paul said.
The lecture was organised to mark the 125th birth anniversary of Sarat Bose, freedom fighter and senior Congress leader who was a minister in the Jawaharlal Nehru government. Brother of Subhash Chandra Bose, Sarat Bose was described as the ‘Churchill of India’ for his oratorical skills.