Ministers ‘unlikely’ to remove students from migration statistics

New chair of Commons education committee ‘concerned’ by moves to limit study visas

December 19, 2022
Source: UK parliament
Robin Walker

Taking international students out of the UK’s immigration statistics would be seen as a “fix” by the public and therefore it is unlikely to happen without a manifesto commitment, the new chair of the House of Commons Education Select Committee has said.

Robin Walker predicted the country’s tabloid press would “have a field day” if ministers were seen to be trying to reduce the immigration numbers – that recently hit record levels – by removing the group from the figures entirely.

Universities have lobbied for students not to count as immigrants to defuse some of the debate around how many should be permitted to enter the UK in future.

Under pressure to bring immigration down, the Home Office and Downing Street have recently hinted at introducing new limits on study visas, which many fear would prove catastrophic for higher education.

Mr Walker, a former schools minister, told a meeting of the International Higher Education Commission convened by former universities minister Chris Skidmore that he was “concerned” about the proposed policy, which he said was “very hard to fathom” both in economic terms and when considering the benefits that students from overseas bring to the UK’s university system.

Other countries who compete for students with the UK do not classify them as immigrants and Mr Walker said treating the issue as a migration one was “always going to be challenging” but the sector had to make the case for change clearer before any minister would look again at the policy.

“The reason why previous governments have looked at this but baulked at the decision is that it is too easily painted as a fix of the numbers and the tabloid press would potentially have a field day of being able to say: ‘You are just fixing the numbers by taking this group out of it,’” he said.

A government would therefore need to have the credibility of having included such a promise in its manifesto before change was possible, he said, meaning the current administration was unlikely to look again at the issue before the next general election.

Mr Walker said he felt hints that international students studying at “elite” institutions would be favoured by ministers was a “very strange suggestion”, particularly after the government’s experience of increasing tuition fees in 2012 – where almost every university decided to charge the maximum available for fear of being seen as inferior.

“The idea that any university is going to accept being branded as non-elite when it comes to international students…is for the birds,” he said.

Looking at whether longer post-study work visas could be given to those studying higher levels of qualifications – as is the case in Australia – was a “policy definitely worth exploring and one that could be economically justified”, Mr Walker added.

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Reader's comments (3)

We expect stupid government policy and that is what we get !!!!! The ignorance and stupidity of the Tories knows no bounds. Brexit is supposedly their greatest achievement and of course it is causing untold damage to the UK economy. Now they want to limit the supply of students who fund Universities and keep them just about afloat,. Fools !
Removing students from established international definitions of migration is not a sensible decision, even if it helps Vice-Chancellors to feel less exposed. A better way of dealing with this issue is either providing more funding for universities so that they don't need to recruit so many international students or developing other ways of earning foreign income, exports etc.
Come on, since when have manifesto "commitments" ever been taken seriously? They are ditched as soon as the last vote is cast, that's all they are for.


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