Yesterday saw a Commons debate secured by Stuart McDonald (SNP) on immigration rules for international students. Scotland is seeking a Scottish post-Brexit visa which stipulates residence in Scotland as a condition and Stuart McDonald summarised indicators of a decline in UK overseas student recruitment brought into sharper focus by Brexit. In 2014-15, of the around 2.27 million students at UK higher education institutions, more than 125,000 were from other EU countries and more than 300,000 were from non-EU countries. The British Council has stated that the UK is beginning to lose market share to our competitors. The number of new entrants from the key Indian market fell by 10% in 2015 compared with the year before and by around 50% in the last four years, whilst our competitors are easing immigration rules and investing to improve their offer. In the USA, Australia and Canada, with less restrictive post-study visa offers, recruitment is rising steeply. In last year’s autumn statement, the Chancellor projected that the number of non-EU students in England alone would rise by just over 7% in the next two years and by 3.2% in the two years after that, but with 0.6% increase in student enrolments last year this goal has no chance of being met.

Home Office is piloting a selective post-study visa as part of the Tier 4 visa scheme for international postgraduate students. The pilot has been widely greeted as offering no replacement for post-study visas — it is far too narrow and restrictive. Paul Blomfield (co-chair of the new All Party Parliamentary Group for International Students) asked for confirmation whether the government plans to use TEF to link student visas to ‘quality’ of course and pointed out that the Indian Government made it clear to the Prime Minister that our future relationship depended on our taking a different view on international students. Selective protections aimed narrowly at a small proportion of the UK HE market will do little to restore overall confidence.

The international passenger survey statistics on which the Home Office relies came in for significant criticism and the ONS announced work on producing more accurate figures relating to student net migration on the same day (16th Nov). ONS has published an Update on international student migration statistics: November 2016 (Latest release) 16 Nov – This report is an update on progress towards a more comprehensive measure of the impact of overseas students on migration to and from the UK. When available, further work is planned to examine what the emerging Exit Check data show regarding departures of people on student visas. Additionally, ONS is considering a one-off online survey to collect information from international students approaching course completion. If this goes ahead, it is likely to take place in March 2017 and the results will be available in summer 2017.

Diane Abbot confirmed that the opposition would remove students from net migration figures. The United Nations defines a long-term international migrant as someone who changes their country of usual residence for a period of at least one year and it is therefore being argued that it is problematic to remove students from net migration statistics. However, in the USA, students are treated as business visitors or tourists and such approaches could work here.

Nicky Morgan referred to recent polling from Universities UK and ComRes which revealed that only 24% of British adults think of international students as immigrants. Of those who expressed a view in the poll, 75% said they would like to see the same number or more international students in the UK, which increased to 87% once information on the economic benefits of international students was provided. The poll also revealed that the overwhelming majority of the British public—91%—think that international students should be able to stay and work in the UK for a period of time after they have completed their studies. She also praised the role that UK universities play in research and driving economic growth in our local areas. UK education exports are estimated to be worth approximately £17.5 billion to the UK economy. International students, including EU students, support 170,000 full-time equivalent jobs across the UK and contribute £9 billion.

Overwhelming support emerged for a number of key actions to ensure that UK Universities can continue to bring in the best and brightest students from across the globe which CHEAD fully supports:

  • Remove international students from the net migration target
  • Reintroduce the post-study work visa not only for STEM and nursing graduates but also for creative graduates
  • Confirm that TEF will not play a role in any selective visa awards scheme

An All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Students has been set up and CHEAD will seek to work closely with the APPG on behalf of the UK creative higher education sector.

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