International Students and Net Migration in the UK argues it would be more sensible to only count students as part of the official figures if they choose to stay on in the UK for work or marriage.
The report, by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), a left-leaning think tank, suggests the government is trying to “game” the statistics by cutting international student numbers in the short-term so it can show a reduction in net migration by 2015.
Its findings chime with calls from Universities UK to create a separate tally of net migration that excludes students.
Currently, students entering or leaving the UK are included in the country’s net migration tally, which represented 252,000 people flowing into the country in 2010, the highest on record.
The coalition wants to reduce this figure to the “tens of thousands” by 2015.
The IPPR suggests that students should only be counted in or out of the country if their visa status has changed; for example if they stay in the country to work or get married.
It estimates that 15 per cent of international students remain in the UK for more than seven years.
In theory, if flows of international students were steady, this way of measuring migration would make little difference, the report argues.
However, under the current system a big cut in international student numbers in the short-term significantly reduces net migration, even if most of them ultimately leave the UK anyway.
The report claims that the fact the government continues to include students in the net migration tally is “not a genuine concern with long-term net migration”.
Instead it wishes to “‘game’ its own net migration target by banking large apparent reductions in 2013 and 2014 which reflect the limitations of the current method of measurement rather than real changes in long-term net migration trends”, the report claims.