The analysis from the Institute for Public Policy Research, published today, says there is “a risk that the proposed changes will impose substantial (and very real) costs on the education sector and wider economy simply to deliver reductions in migration statistics.”
The remarks refer to plans to restrict Tier 4 student visas, which universities fear will result in a drastic decline in the number of students coming to the UK.
The government insisted that the clampdown was not aimed at higher education, but universities said they feared that even if it was focused on courses below degree level it could impact on the flow of students from preparatory courses.
Today’s report, Student Migration in the UK, highlights discrepancies between immigration figures cited by the government and other data sources, which it claims are more accurate. According to the IPPR, “arrivals data suggest that international student immigration numbers have been more-or-less stable for at least a decade”.
This is at odds with the claim in the government consultation document that the number of students admitted had increased by 70 per cent in 10 years.
The report says that this claim stems from a calculation that includes “student visitors” – which was introduced as a new immigration category in 2007 – in the figures for 2009.
“The 1999 data is therefore not comparable with the 2009 statistic used in the government’s consultation document,” concludes the report, which was commissioned by Universities UK. “Once student visitors are excluded, arrivals data show that student admissions in 2009 were about the same as in 1999.”
The report also says that cutting the number of international students by half would only reduce net migration to the UK by 40,000.
Noting the government’s aim of reducing total net migration “from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands”, the authors say the political debate around migration has come “to focus more on esoteric questions of statistics and principle than on real migration flows or their real impacts”.
The report is the second in a week to oppose the government’s visa plans.
A study published last week by the Higher Education Policy Institute and written by Edward Acton, vice-chancellor of the University of East Anglia, accuses elements of the government’s visa controls of having “an ugly taste of apartheid” about them.