Ministers want to 'disaggregate' overseas students from net migration

The government has announced that it wants to publish more detailed figures on overseas students that "disaggregate" them from totals on net migration.

September 13, 2012

David Willetts, the universities and science minister, said the Office for National Statistics was working on ways to "better count students in immigration flows".

However, the announcement - made at the Universities UK conference today - appears to stop short of meeting widespread calls to remove international students entirely from net migration figures.

Universities want overseas students to be removed from the statistics as currently they feel the government is using visa policy to help meet its target of cutting net migration by hundreds of thousands.

In his speech at Keele University, Mr Willetts said the government wanted "to publish disaggregated figures so the debate can be better informed".

He also announced a £2 million fund for overseas students at London Metropolitan University who have been hit by the decision to revoke the institution's visa licence.

This was "to help legitimate overseas students at London Met who face extra costs through no fault of their own". The money will be used to help with the costs of students transferring to other universities and to make new visa applications.

Mr Willetts also said the number of high-achieving A-level students entering university this year was likely to be lower than was estimated.

"The net result may be total numbers getting AAB or equivalent are closer to 80,000 than the 85,000 which was [the funding council's] best estimate," he said.

It comes after numerous reports have indicated a number of universities, including some selective institutions from the Russell Group, could fall well short of their undergraduate intake targets because of the AAB shortfall.

Earlier, Eric Thomas, the UUK president, said in his speech to the conference that the admissions process this year was "a story of unpredicted and intended consequences".

He said that next year "further changes in the variables will have similar outcomes and the situation will probably not stabilise until there is complete deregulation of student numbers".

Meanwhile he warned that the London Met crisis meant that "we appear to have arrived at a situation with overseas students in which our country invites ridicule, or at the very least astonishment".

He added that the sector and the country had not "fulfilled our duties to [London Met international students] as human beings, never mind as students". He said the majority of those students threatened with deportation due to the licence revocation were bona fide.

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