The UK government is spending £4 million on a campaign to attract overseas students to the nation’s universities – at the same time as the home secretary pledges “tougher rules” for foreign students coming to study on Britain’s “lower-quality courses”.
The “Study in the UK, discover you” social media and online campaign, part of the government’s existing GREAT campaign to promote the UK overseas, aims to “recapture market share” in international students.
Conrad Bird, who works in the Prime Minister’s Office and Cabinet Office communications as GREAT campaign director, revealed at a conference this week that the new campaign is being finalised and will launch soon.
While universities will welcome the initiative, they may feel that different parts of the government are sending out conflicting messages to prospective students overseas.
Prime Minister Theresa May’s approach to overseas students – and determination to continue including them in the net migration figures that the government aims to reduce to the “tens of thousands” – has come under further pressure this week, with press reports indicating that others in government are briefing against her strategy.
This comes after Amber Rudd, the home secretary, told the Conservatives’ annual conference this month that a government consultation “will look at what more we can do to support the best universities and those that stick to the rules, to attract the best talent, while looking at tougher rules for students on lower-quality courses”.
India’s second-most widely read English-language newspaper, the Hindustan Times, reported on her speech plans, saying that the plans would “add to perceptions in countries such as India…that Britain is less welcoming for international students than competing countries such as Australia and Canada”.
At the HE Show conference in London this week, Mr Bird said that students who attend British universities are “more likely to trade, to work with us in the future”.
The initial cost of the campaign is £4 million, according to the Cabinet Office. It is billed as aiming to attract the “brightest and best”.
Mr Bird said: “Choice of country is a key determinant in international student decision-making. We’ve actually not promoted the country as a whole – we’ve promoted a lot of individual universities beneath that – for many years.
“We need to get back on the front foot. We need to get back and recapture market share and support all British universities in their individual commercial activity.”
Meanwhile, The Times reported this week that a “secret government study” has found that only 1,500 non-EU students break the terms of their visas by failing to leave the country after finishing their courses, contrary to official figures that the Home Office has used “to suggest that tens of thousands of foreign students ‘vanish’ each year”.
It also reported that Ms Rudd “tried to have students removed from the net migration figures, enabling them to avoid the crackdown on migrants”, but was “overruled” by Ms May.
And Universities UK published the results of a poll, carried out by ComRes, which found that only 24 per cent of British adults see international students as immigrants.
Nicola Dandridge, UUK chief executive, said: “These findings are a clear indication that any new policies aimed at lowering net migration figures by reducing the number of overseas students will not address public concerns over immigration.”