The body representing universities in the U.K. is calling for a “new immigration” policy on international students, after new research pointed out that nearly two-thirds of people think that international students had a positive impact on local economies. The study said just 26% of the poll respondents believed they should be counted as “immigrants” in government policy.
The research comes amid growing pressure on the government to remove international students from net migration figures — something the government has resisted so far despite efforts, including by senior members of the Conservative Party as well as by House of Lords earlier this year to persuade it to do so.
The poll conducted for Universities U.K. by research consultancy ComRes indicated a consistency of views across the country, beyond London and including northern regions. It found that when details of the economic impact of international students were presented to people, 73% said they would like to see the numbers of international students coming to the U.K. increase or at least remain the same.
“It is clear that the British public does not see international students as long-term migrants, but as valuable, temporary visitors,” said Dame Julia Goodfellow, president of Universities U.K.
“But, while the U.K. government continues to count international students as long-term migrants in its target to reduce migration, there is continued pressure to reduce their numbers, adding to the perception that they are not welcome here,” she said.
While Britain does not have a cap on the number of international students, a slew of factors are thought to put students off, including their limited ability to stay and work after completing their degree, and perceptions that Britain is an unwelcoming place, chiefly fuelled by political rhetoric stressing the government’s eagerness to clamp down on immigration.
Indians most affected
Recent figures have shown international student enrolments dropping over the years, with Indian students among the most impacted.
Figures published by Higher Education Statistics Agency in January showed that the number of Indian students dropped to 16,745 in 2015-16 from 29,900 in 2011-12. Senior officials and politicians in India have in the past indicated that policies towards international students is one of the issues of concern in the bilateral relationship.
“If the U.K. wants to remain a top destination for international students, we need a new immigration policy that encourages them to choose the U.K. As the U.K. prepares to exit the EU, it is more important than ever that we project a welcoming message to talented people from across the world,” added Ms. Goodfellow.
“Foreign students contribute an eye-watering £26 billion to the U.K. economy, yet the Conservatives, who once delighted in the title of ‘the party of business’, are prepared to lose all that money,” said John Pugh, spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats on education.