UK expert panel to assess impact of international students on country’s jobs

UK’s migration advisory committee will be asked to examine the effect that both EU and non-EU students have on the labour market and economy while in the country

education Updated: Aug 25, 2017 10:50 IST
The Guardian
The Guardian
The Guardian
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The UK government wants to keep the door open to genuine students but is likely to crack down on abuse of visas by poor-quality institutions(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Migration experts will be asked to examine the impact of international students on the UK job market, in the country’s Home Office review that campaigners warned may lead to tougher restrictions.

The migration advisory committee will be asked to examine the effect that both EU and non-EU students have on the labour market and economy while in the UK, the department said on Friday – though it will not report back until next September.

The home secretary, Amber Rudd, has previously pledged a crackdown on international student numbers, including tougher visa rules for “lower quality” universities and courses.

Theresa May has repeatedly rejected suggestions that the UK could exclude international students from the official migration figures, a move that would make it more viable for the government to meet its long-delayed target of reducing net migration to the tens of thousands.

The chancellor, Philip Hammond, is believed to favour such a move, telling the Treasury select committee last year that it was “a matter of public perception”.

The Labour MP Peter Kyle, a supporter of the pro-EU Open Britain campaign, said the report should not be used as a path to further restrictions on genuine students.

“International students are a huge boon, both to our world-class universities and our economy,” he said. “That’s why any attempt to make it harder for them to study in the UK would be a disaster. Our economy would suffer, and so would Britain’s reputation as a tolerant and welcoming country.

“The migration advisory committee is meant to be an independent, expert body. Any attempt by ministers to use their report as a fig leaf to try and justify a crackdown on international students would be a disgrace.”

Announcing the report, Rudd said the government wanted to keep the door open to genuine students but would crack down on abuse of visas by poor-quality institutions.

The committee will be asked to examine the impact of tuition fees and other spending by international students on the local and national economy, as well as the role students play in contributing to economic growth and the quality of education for domestic students.

Rudd said the UK’s status as the second most popular global destination for international students was “something to be proud of” and said the sector was a key export for the UK. “That’s why we want to have a robust and independent evidence base of their value and the impact they have,” she said.

Last year the UK saw an increase of 6% in visa applications for Russell group universities, and visa applications sponsored by universities are 17% higher than they were in 2010.

However, it emerged last month that an official measure of the number of overseas graduates leaving Britain was to be downgraded amid concerns it was unreliable.

Doubts were raised over the measure after a gap appeared – averaging about 110,000 a year – between the estimated number of people entering the UK to study and the number of former students leaving the country, raising questions over whether graduates were remaining in the country beyond the end of their courses.

The immigration minister Brandon Lewis said the government’s commitment to reducing net migration “does not detract from our determination to attract international students from around the world” but said the government was still cracking down on systemic abuse.

Alistair Jarvis, the chief executive of Universities UK, welcomed an examination of the net benefits of international students. “This is an opportunity to build on the considerable evidence that shows that international students have a very positive impact on the UK economy and local communities,” he said.

“International students also enrich our campuses and the experience of UK students, culturally as well as economically. Many return home having built strong professional and personal links that provide long-term soft-power benefits to the UK.”

First Published: Aug 24, 2017 17:05 IST