But the MAC report called for a change in stance from the sector on this topic – explaining how the UK calculates its net migration count, and then exploring the issue of the UK’s stated net migration target.
“The government could choose to use other data sources to set targets related to migration”
This was originally introduced as a broad aim to be reduced to the “tens of thousands” by previous UK prime minister, David Cameron.
“The net migration target is a political target and the IPS net migration figure does not have to form the basis of the government’s net migration target,” the report notes.
“The government could choose to use other data sources to set targets related to migration, such as visa or settlement statistics. Or it could choose not to have a target at all and summarise its ambitions on net migration in a different way.”
Many in the sector expressed concern that inclusion in the target contributed to an image of the UK as unwelcoming for international students.
But the report continued, “If there is a problem with students in the net migration target, it is with the target itself rather than the inclusion of students in that target.”
It also pointed out that many of the responses to the call for evidence argued that students should be taken out of the government’s net migration target, but “none suggested a practical way in which this might be done”.
“Even if a method was found”, the report continued, “it would be unlikely to make much difference to the net migration statistics because most students leave the country and the ones who do not have to be counted”.
In response to the report, Russell Group head of Policy, Jessica Cole said: “On the politically live issue of migration targets, it is important to be clear that the MAC has called for the continued inclusion of students in the migration statistics, which is sensible and with which few people would disagree.
However, they have brought into question the overall target to reduce numbers, in which international students are included. As the Committee says, we should actively seek to grow the numbers of international students in the UK.”
The position on not extracting UK students from the net migration count bore the brunt of criticism from the sector.
“Particularly perplexing is the suggestion that, despite calls from across the sector to the contrary, international students should remain within net migrant targets after all,” added Yinbo Yu, NUS International Students’ officer.
Labour Party’s shadow immigration minister Afzal Khan also weighed in on the topic, saying “The Government must scrap the wrongheaded net migration target. The Migration Advisory Committee is right to say that it is entirely a political device, which the Tory party is using for their own party political ends, to the detriment of the country’s best interests.”
Co-chair of the International Students APPG Paul Blomfield MP added, “We’re losing out to other countries as the report rightly highlights. The government needs to set an ambitious target for catching up with our competitors and put the policies in place to achieve it.
“We should follow the US model of counting the numbers, but excluding students from the overall net migration target.”