International Students Benefit Us All.

19 Nov 2018
The government is increasingly isolated in its approach of creating a ‘hostile environment’ for international students writes Diane Abbott MP

A cross-party group of MPs and Lords (the All Party Parliamentary Group, APPG, for International Students) recently warned that numbers of international students in the UK are "flatlining" and the government must "press reset" to start to get more wanting to come to Britain. In particular, the report makes a strong case that when it comes to the government’s approach to international students, "for too long, the drive to reduce net migration has trumped the growth of our world-class education system.”

The report adds that whilst international students bring huge benefits yet restrictive policies mean they increasingly go other countries such as Australia, Canada and the US.

"The desire to study in our universities, colleges and schools has made us second only to the US as a destination of choice, bringing billions in export earnings and enormous influence," write the APPG's Paul Blomfield MP and Lord Bilimoria in the report’s foreword, adding that they also "bring vitality and tremendous cultural contributions to our campuses and communities."

A key recommendation included is to remove students from immigration targets.

A number of experts and relevant bodies including Universities UK, the teaching unions, the National Union of Students and many local authorities representing university towns have already called for this. This is also a demand that for some time we in the Labour opposition have supported.

This is part of a growing consensus that the government must change course on the issue of international students, with the Prime Minister seemingly increasingly isolating herself even in her own party with her clinging on to a ‘hostile environment’ approach.

In February this year, for example, elected mayors from across the country wrote an open letter highlighting the profound and positive impact international students have on our cities and regions, and the need for
the government to have a more positive approach in this area.

Yet the government remains in denial about how international students have helped – and can help in the future - bring prosperity and opportunity to all the nations and regions of the UK.

According to Universities UK, the umbrella organisation for Vice Chancellors, non-EU international students make up 13 per cent of universities’ revenues.

A January 2018 report from the Higher Education Policy Institute showed that international students generate a net economic benefit of more than £20bn for the UK economy, arguing that international students bring economic benefits that are worth 10 times the costs of hosting them.

In 2014-15 this meant that international students supported more than 200,000 jobs, including not only through tuition fees, but also through spending that supports local businesses and helping encourage tourism.

This is a sum of over £300 pounds a year for every British resident from international students.

Some international students also ask to stay on after their studies, and again then make an important contribution to our living standards.  The NHS is just one sector which would collapse without the contribution of overseas students who come here to study and then stay on to work.

And as my colleague Afzal Khan MP, has put it, we also “value their contribution to our culture, society, ‘soft power’ abroad, not to mention the fact that they subsidise university fees for UK students.”

Yet the government refuses to admit its approach is wrong.

This may well be because, as home secretary and then Prime Minister, Theresa May has been a vocal advocate of including international students in the official data, and many have long argued that this has been guided politically by wanting to be seen as anti-immigration rather than guided by what is best for Britain.

This has been widely recognised as having negative effects for some time and seen real policy mistakes.

Earlier this year it was even revealed that over a number of years the Home Office may have falsely accused as many as 7,000 foreign students of faking their proficiency in English and ordered them to leave the country, with some of them saying they were detained and made homeless as a result.

Within the education sector and beyond, it has been noted how policy measures such as the ending of post-study work visas in 2012 have contributed to international students opting for competitor countries.

Proposals recommended in the APPG’s important aforementioned report to reverse "this self-defeating course" include a "clear and ambitious" target to grow international student numbers and a commitment to remove them from targets to reduce migration plus welcoming and consistent messages to international students, and a post-study work visa allowing up to two years of work experience in the UK.

Showing just how isolated the Tory government is on this issue, Tory MP and former Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, said in response to the APPG report ”that the impact of international students was seen in every constituency in the UK, "as an economic, cultural and social benefit".

In contrast to the Tories, Labour believes international students are welcome here. This means that we must send a more open and welcoming message to international students. In contrast, the current Tory approach is damaging Britain in this area, and suggests they see international students as a drain on the economy and society.

Furthermore, the Government must scrap the wrongheaded net migration target, which is a political device the Tory party is using for their own party political ends, to the detriment of the country’s best interests. It and the whole, failed, ‘hostile environment’ approach must go.

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