Heseltine weighs in to overseas students debate

Former deputy prime minister Michael Heseltine has criticised the inclusion of foreign students in government plans to cut net immigration to the UK

August 26, 2014

Source: Chatham House

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Lord Heseltine drew a distinction between overseas students and permanent immigrant groups. He said that foreign students come to the UK to study and then return home on graduation.

He argued that the public “do not see students who come and go as part of the immigration problem”. He said that those seen as part of the “problem” typically had few qualifications and were unemployed, putting a strain on welfare resources.

Lord Heseltine’s comments followed the publication of a poll for Universities UK and thinktank British Future, which found that 59 per cent of the public do not want the government to cut the number of international students as a means of reducing net immigration to the UK. The poll also found that 66 per cent of Conservative voters are opposed to reducing overseas student numbers.

In his comments to the BBC, Lord Heseltine spoke of the potential economic impact of creating barriers for foreign students.

“[T]he government will have to recognise that there are very large numbers of students in this country – in our universities, in our business schools – who are a great asset financially and educationally,” he said.

He warned that UK universities’ inability to attract foreign students could lead to a “lack of finance”, which could be “serious for universities”. He said there was “no doubt” that these students go on to become “ambassadors” for the UK after graduation.

The remarks from Lord Heseltine – who last month wrote for Times Higher Education on the importance of universities in stimulating economic growth – were followed up by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who said the inclusion of foreign students in immigration targets “doesn’t make sense”.

Responding to Lord Heseltine, the Home Office defended its current policy. It said students continue to have “an impact on our communities and our public services”, and as such should be counted in net migration figures.

In an official statement it added that the government was “building an immigration system that is fair to British citizens and legitimate migrants and tough on those who flout the rules”.

It added: “While our reforms are cracking down on the abuse of student visas, which was allowed to continue for too long, we have seen applications to study at UK universities go up by 7 per cent last year – and by even more for our world-leading Russell Group universities.”

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