Visa folly: Cable, cut it out

March 10, 2011

In the next few days, the government is expected to announce its policy on student visas.

Last week, Labour's shadow business frontbench team hosted a consultative seminar attended by representatives of Universities UK and the university mission groups, the Association of Colleges and the 157 Group of larger further education institutions.

The conclusion was clear. The force driving visa policy is the coalition's political promise to cut immigration to the tens of thousands. But this crude target is being achieved at the cost of huge damage to the UK's export earnings, its global reputation and the very quality of education and research that makes the country an attractive place to study.

Business secretary Vince Cable is personally responsible for higher education and further education, trade policy and research and development. Here we have a British success story that earns at least £5 billion and perhaps as much as £8 billion a year in a global market that is growing by 7 per cent a year - the UK's share is 12 per cent.

Overseas students also enable universities to sustain many courses for home students and are a vital part of the teaching and research workforce in many institutions.

Cable must be aware that the Home Office proposals - driven by a political promise rather than any evidence - threaten all this. It is essential that common sense prevails, but can he deliver?

John Denham MP, Shadow business secretary

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