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UK needs positive message, agrees Johnson at APPG meeting

Jo Johnson, the UK’s Minister for Universities and Science, claimed last week that international student numbers to the UK are not in crisis, but he attested to concerns in some markets.

Minister Jo Johnson waits to address the APPG for International Students. Photo: IHE

“Let's not cast ourselves needlessly into a sigh of despair"

Johnson spoke about the perception of the UK being welcoming as a study destination and said his recent trip to India had been about reinforcing a positive message.

The number of Indian students in UK HE has more than halved since 2010, as chair of the APPG, Lord Bilimoria, noted in a blog recently.

Johnson spoke on the need for qualification recognition between the UK and India, as India currently does not recognise one-year master degrees from the UK.

He was addressing the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Students last week at an event in the House of Lords, which was the APPG’s first meeting since its inception.

“Let’s not cast ourselves needlessly into a sigh of despair,” he said.

The meeting, hosted by co-chairs Paul Blomfield MP and Bilimoria, was attended by 55 education stakeholders, including 12 parliamentarians.

Those in attendance at the meeting expressed concern about a lack of coordination between government departments meaning that negative messages of the UK are still be conveyed to international students, despite the new Study UK: Discover You digital platform.

Blomfield called for a clear message that the UK “warmly welcomes students from around the world”.

“For the government to continue to commit to reducing annual net migration to the tens of thousands and to keeping international students in targets to reduce net migration is very wrong, and send out completely the wrong message to the world,” added Bilimoria.

Rebecca Hughes from the British Council also addressed guests. She outlined British Council activity that is ongoing and highlighted that after valuable feedback, the UK’s transnational education offer was included in the Study UK: Discover You campaign.

She also mentioned valuable conversations during the India trip with UKVI staff about what is a quality student and what is a quality applicant.

The APPG for International Students was established in May this year to highlight the impact and contribution international students make to the UK.

In the coming months, the APPG will be focusing on the upcoming Tier 4 consultation the Home Office is running on differentiation between providers, according to Joy Elliott-Bowman, policy and public affairs manager at Independent Higher Education (formerly Study UK).

“The key issue is that differentiation already occurs – FE students and students at private colleges already have less rights than those at university (no work rights, must return home before applying for Tier 2 or a new course),” she told The PIE News.

“How to balance this with the clear assertion that there are no poor quality UK universities and that the impression the Home Office gives that some should have more rights than others is base-less.”

The APPG also hosted 30 international students at the House of Lords later in the same week for International Students Day.

Elliot-Bowman said, “It was a very positive and upbeat event, attended by the Minister, Lord Bilimoria, the SNP Immigration Spokesperson, and members of the APPG, alongside over 30 students, education attachés and the Minister for Education from Thailand.”

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