Tuesday 11 September 2018 18:23
Ministers should relax rules on foreign students staying in the UK after they graduate from university, a government-commissioned review has recommended.
Leave to remain in the country should be extended for all overseas Masters and PhD students, who bring “clear benefits” to Britain, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) concluded.
It also said those who come to the country to study should continue to be included in net migration figures, a recommendation that will be seen by some as vindication for Theresa May.
Foreign students is that they are an unalloyed benefit to the UK
The prime minister has long rejected demands from university groups and some within her own party to remove overseas students from the Conservatives’ net migration target of 100,000.
The MAC concluded that excluding international students from overall migration statistics, which reflect the difference between the numbers of people arriving and leaving for at least 12 months, would be “difficult technically” and would make “almost no difference” to the figures.
Education and business leaders expressed dismay about the report’s recommendation.
Jane Gratton, head of business environment and skills at the British Chambers of Commerce, said firms would be “bitterly disappointed not to see support for the removal of overseas students from the immigration statistics.”
She added: “It’s one thing to control migration, but quite another to use arbitrary mechanisms that deny businesses, universities and public sector employers the people they need to address immediate skills gaps.”
Professor Dame Janet Beer, president of Universities UK, said: “While the report recognises the enormous contribution international students make to life in the UK, we are disappointed with its main recommendations.
“We agree that the government and the sector should continue to work together to grow the number of international students, but growth will only be possible if we have an immigration system that encourages talented international students to choose the UK.”
About 750,000 foreign students come to Britain to study each year, most for short stays, according to the MAC report.
The committee’s chairman, Professor Alan Manning, said international students brought “clear benefits” to the UK.
“They support the education of domestic students, research and local economies,” he said. “Graduates are an important source of skilled workers for the UK economy and boost the UK’s soft power.”
While the UK has a “strong position” in the market for international students, there are no grounds for complacency as competition is “intense,” he warned.
Prof Manning added: “Our proposals are designed to make it easier for the sector and the government to work together to grow the number of students, and for those students to move into skilled work.”