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Wave of media attention for UK student visa cap

A new report that claims the UK’s cap on international students could cost the country up to UK£6 billion has caused a wave of national media attention this week, including coverage in all British broadsheets, a leader in the Financial Times (“Britain’s pointless cap on talent”), and mentions on the BBC.

The UK immigration minister, Damian Green, said he disagrees that students are not migrants - but made a point of referencing international students when talking about queues at border controlThe UK immigration minister, Damian Green, said he disagrees that students are not migrants - but made a point of referencing international students when talking about queues at border control

Only the 15% of overseas students who stay on to work permanently in Britain should be counted

The report from the Institute of Public Policy Research claims that ministers have included overseas students in the government’s net migration count as way of “gaming” the migration tally, which they intend to reduce to the tens of thousands annually by 2015.

IPPR points out that the UK’s main competitors in the overseas student market – the USA, Canada and Australia – do not include temporary or “non-immigrant” admissions in immigration figures, and says only the 15% of overseas students who stay on to work permanently in Britain should be counted within the net migration figures.

The US, Canada and Australia do not include temporary or “non-immigrant” admissions in immigration figures

More worryingly, it says the government’s plans – which include issuing 250,000 fewer student visas by 2015 – threaten to wipe £4bn to £6bn a year off the UK economy.

The major media response to the report will be welcomed by the education sector and put pressure on the government, as it prepares to announce the latest immigration statistics on May 24.

A Financial Times leader, May 16th, stated that removing the cap would not only help universities, but also build “lucrative commercial and diplomatic ties”;  a separate opinion piece asked pertinently: “Will the next generation of world leaders – the Manmohan Singhs, Benazir Bhuttos and Bill Clintons of the future – be educated in the UK?”

The Guardian meanwhile ran two pieces – on the alleged cheating of the migrant tally and the impact of private college closures on international students – while Daniel Knowles of the Telegraph (Britain’s bestselling broadsheet) tied the curbs to student migration to a fall in Britain’s traditionally high emigration rates. “Mr Cameron can’t force [British] people onto boats to Australia (though he’s trying quite hard), so getting net migration down means cutting immigration,” he wrote.

Removing the cap would not only help universities, but also build “lucrative commercial and diplomatic ties”

Vincenzo Raimo, director of the International Office at the University of Nottingham welcomed the coverage. “It’s clear that neither the UK government or many UK universities have fully appreciated the additional costs associated with the changes to the UK visa policies… The press internationally has been dreadful and the UK has been portrayed as unwelcoming.”

He continued, “University international recruiters have had to work very hard to combat the negative perception in parts of the world. This has involved more visits, more advertising, and generally a much greater marketing effort.”

The press internationally has been dreadful and the UK has been portrayed as unwelcoming

In defence of the government’s policies, the immigration minister, Damian Green, told MPs that he disagrees with the argument that students are not migrants. “Under longstanding international measures, students and others who come to the UK for more than a year are counted as migrants. I agree that not all students remain permanently but significant numbers do.”

However, signs there were signs Green was feeling the pressure, with an announcement on Tuesday that he is to field more border staff at Heathrow to battle lengthy immigration queues – another issue damaging the UK’s reputation abroad – in time for the arrival of tens of thousands of international students in September.

The  student visa issue was also covered in the IndependentLondon Evening Standard and BBC, and Times Higher Education reported today that UUK is appealing to the Prime Minister in advance of next week’s immigration figures.

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