An ICM poll for thinktank British Future and Universities UK finds that 59 per cent of the public believe the government should not cut international student numbers, even if that limits the government’s ability to cut immigration numbers overall. Only 22 per cent took the opposing view, the report says.
And 66 per cent of Conservative voters are opposed to reducing international student numbers, the polling found.
Tory MP Mark Field, chairman of Conservatives for Managed Migration, says in the foreword to the British Future and UUK report that it was “always a mistake to include the student migrant flow within a target to reduce total immigration numbers”.
In government, the Conservatives have pursued a policy to cut net migration to the “tens of thousands”. The Conservative leadership has so far rejected calls to remove students from the net migration figures, thus sparing universities from the effects of the drive to reduce immigration.
The report, titled International Students and the UK Immigration Debate, is likely to be an attempt by UUK to influence Conservative thinking amid the development of the party’s election manifesto.
The report recommends that the government “should remove international students from any net migration target”; should launch a campaign overseas to “attract more international students to Britain”; should “communicate a consistent message that Britain welcomes international students”; and should “enhance opportunities for qualified international graduates to stay in the UK to work and contribute to the economy”.
In terms of the post-study work visa – scrapped by the government and viewed as particularly important to attracting Indian students – the polling found that 75 per cent of respondents said international students “should be allowed to stay and work in Britain after graduating from British universities…for at least a period of time”.
Sixty-one per cent said that “Britain’s universities would have less funding to invest in top-quality facilities and teaching without the higher fees paid by international students. Only 7 per cent disagree.”
Christopher Snowden, UUK president, said: “The poll is clear that the public sees international students as valuable, temporary visitors, not immigrants.”
He added: “With international students being caught up in efforts to bear down on immigration, there is a perception internationally that the UK is closed for business and does not welcome students. The call to remove international students from any net migration target has clear public support.”