UK universities told to ignore net migration target

Chair of Migration Advisory Committee says target no longer influences policy on student migration

February 8, 2019
Crowded King's Cross station
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The UK government’s lead adviser on migration has claimed that the Home Office’s net migration target no longer drives policy and told universities to pretend that the goal “doesn’t exist”.

Alan Manning, professor of economics at the London School of Economics and chair of the Migration Advisory Committee, said that the government’s target of reducing net migration to less than 100,000 a year was “conspicuous by its absence” in its recent immigration White Paper and that “the government actually doesn’t pay any attention to it any more”.

“My advice to people who worry about the net migration target is to say just pretend it doesn’t exist....[It] is not really influencing policy on student migration at all at the moment and if you keep on mentioning it you’re actually drawing attention to it and pretending it’s a problem when actually it really isn’t,” he said.

Speaking at a Westminster Higher Education Forum seminar on international student recruitment, Professor Manning defended his decision to not recommend taking international students out of the target or reintroducing post-study work visas in last year’s MAC report on the impact of international students.

He claimed that “removing students from the net migration statistics would make almost no difference to the actual figures”, even when accounting for potential growth in the number of international students in the UK over time.

Some sector figures were concerned by what they saw as selective use of graduate earnings data in the report to justify not introducing post-study work visas but Professor Manning insisted that “the way in which we used the data was appropriate”.

Professor Manning said that the number of people in Australia on post-study work visas was “exploding” and this is often presented as “a fantastic success” story, but cautioned against the UK following in the country’s footsteps.

“You can already find, for example, the Australian Labor Party saying this system is out of control,” he said.

“I wouldn’t be that surprised if that actually turns into something of a boom or bust situation. I really don’t think that would be in the interests of the [UK] sector.”

But Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, told the same event that he did not accept the idea that “if things grow too quickly, you have to put the clamps back on”.

“Why do we put these absurd constraints on one of the very few sectors where our country is truly world class?” he asked. “We should be redialling everything the way the Australians have done.”

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