Tourist turn-offs

November 1, 2012

The government's refusal to budge on the issue of excluding university-sponsored students from its net migration figures, despite compelling economic and academic arguments for doing so, is beginning to look like nothing more than a domestic face-saving exercise at the expense of the UK's image abroad.

As such, the work by Conservative backbencher Nadhim Zahawi and Labour MP Paul Blomfield (both members of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee), who have put aside party differences to lay the foundations of an exit strategy for the government on the issue, is to be applauded ("No talk of U-turns, please: call for cross-party unity on immigration shift", News, 11 October).

The positive economic and intellectual contribution that overseas students make to the UK, both during their studies and long after they have left university and returned home to take up positions in global businesses, is invaluable to the UK's academy and stalling economy. Yet one can only imagine the conclusions being drawn by those considering study in this country when they see arrivals queuing overnight to register their presence with the police or being ejected from London Metropolitan University through no fault of their own.

Instances like this, quickly reported in the foreign press, spectacularly undermine the work done by government agencies and organisations abroad to enhance the UK's reputation as a welcoming place to live and study: the damage could take years to repair.

There is already evidence that foreign students are beginning to turn away from the UK to competitors such as the US and Australia, so it is essential that all possible pressure is brought to bear on the government to force a decision soon. International students are global education tourists, not numbers in the immigration debate.

James Pitman, Managing director, HE - UK and Europe Study Group

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