Tory MPs want overseas students cap

A group of Conservative MPs want to limit the number of international students allowed at all but the “top” 30 universities in the UK.

July 15, 2013

The 40 Group, a collection of MPs elected with the narrowest margins in 2010, are concerned about their impact on public services.

In a pamphlet that has yet to be released, the group says that “while Britain undoubtedly benefits from foreign students we must not forget that they are also consumers of housing, the NHS, transport and other national infrastructure,” the BBC has reported.

They propose that any cap would not apply to the top 30 universities, although it is not clear how these would be selected.

The pamphlet is an “unofficial element” of the Conservatives 40/40 strategy to try to win the next general election in 2015 by holding 40 marginal seats and winning 40 target seats, the BBC said.

In a foreword the prime minister, David Cameron, describes the pamphlet’s proposals as “interesting” and “valuable”, although he adds that party members will “inevitably have different views” about them.

Many of the proposals in the pamphlet are said to be inspired by conversations with swing voters.

There is currently no cap on the number of international students who can come to the UK, a message hammered home by Mr Cameron in a visit to India in February.

But universities have voiced fears that changes to immigration rules, such as the decision to end the automatic right to work for two years after graduation, is harming demand from overseas.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, said: “While the full details of these policy suggestions are not yet known, UUK would have concerns about the impact of imposing a cap on such a successful area of activity for the UK.”

She added: “While the prime minister has stated publicly that genuine international students are welcome in the UK and that there is no a cap on numbers, this proposal would send out precisely the opposite message internationally.”

Ms Dandridge argued that international students are “short-term visitors” who obtain their higher education qualifications, and then leave”, and “make very few demands on public services such as hospitals”.

She argued that “recent research from the University of Sheffield highlighted that international students contribute far more to the economy than they take out”.

Ms Dandridge continued: “Legitimate concerns about immigration must be addressed. However, this should be done in a way that does not end up causing long-term damage to a profoundly successful UK export.”

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Reader's comments (2)

It's worth chasing down the 40 ideas. They're an eclectic bunch. No 12 is about irrigation licences… They leave immigration and international student numbers to last. No 40 firmly links students with immigration – the sector’s protestations have not sunk into the 40 – and leaps into the government’s favourite phrase. “A way must be found to bring the numbers down to a sustainable level while also ensuring that we do not deter the brightest and the best from coming here.” So, how to do that. 20 to 30 universities would be outside a cap (where student numbers are held at their current level). These will be chosen, after consultation with the sector, on a basis such as choosing from the Times Higher World Universities list (handy that that list is most research focused, of course). Then, the bit that will play well with the more means worse crowd: “It creates a very real incentive for universities to reach the highest standards while also saying to those offering courses of limited academic value that the UK will not continue to support what is often a purely money- making exercise, offering no real benefit to students or to our academic sector.” So, clearly universities 31-130 are offering courses of no real benefit to students. But, in the remorseless logic of those who believe in league tables as drivers of performance, universities would have a “real incentive” to do better in the league tables, as they could then expand student numbers. Because, as we all know, research intensive universities are just begging to expand their student numbers (currently having no cap on them appears not to be sufficient “real” incentive for them).
Apparently the 40 Group of Conservative MPs were unusually for the CParty variously educated, as follows: Independent Private schools = 20 Comprehensives = 20 Oxford and Cambridge Universities = 7 Redbrick or similar universities = 23 Ex-Polytechnics = 3 No university or FE = 7 Nevertheless the subjects studied at university were still typical of most MPs namely: Politics, law, history, economics ,finance, English, geography ,music. The group members as usual worked in legal or business roles or as local authority councilors before entering Parliament. Disturbingly however their pamphlet, by deeming only the 'top' 30 research intensive mainly liberal arts/sciences universities as important, perhaps potentially diminishes perceptions of Britain's need for high quality technical FE and HE to meet the intensifying international economic and industrial challenges ahead.

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