Speaking at the Global University Summit, hosted by the University of Warwick, in central London, the business secretary also suggested that in order to tackle the ongoing tension between the government’s targets to lower net migration and the important overseas student market, “we need to find a cleverer way to present the data”.
His comments seemed to support the higher education’s long-running lobbying campaign to get international students removed from the net migration figures, which the government has pledged to cut from the “hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands”.
Speaking today, Mr Cable said international students were “good for the country, good for universities” but that “one of the problems we have stems from a statistical anomaly in that the United Nations, in its wisdom, has classified overseas students as immigrants, which they are not”.
He added: “All the evidence suggests the British public do not see them as immigrants, but nonetheless they have got caught up in this torrid and emotional debate in the UK.”
Mr Cable’s remarks at the conference, for which Times Higher Education is media partner, came after figures released last week showed net migration to the UK fell again mainly thanks to a 23 per cent drop in the number of students coming to the country to study.
Figures released by the Office for National Statistics on 23 May showed that 190,000 migrants arrived to study in the year to September 2012, a fall of 56,000 on the previous year.
Speaking after Mr Cable, Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, also pressed the case for facilitating rather than hindering overseas students in coming to the UK.
He said that last week’s figures showing a decline in international students were “not necessarily a positive economic indicator”, adding that London was attractive for a host of reasons, including the fact that it had “more Michelin-starred restaurants than Paris” and “a wonderful communist bike scheme sponsored by a bank”.