The primary topic of the discussions around students was their inclusion in the net migration target, which according to Russell Group’s head of policy Sarah Stevens creates the perception that the UK is unwelcoming to students.
“The UK position as a hub for global talent is being questioned”
This is particularly important post-Brexit, in order to allow the UK to keep attracting global talent – an ability that could be under threat with industries such as IT, design and creative industries taking a hit from Brexit, as explained by Phoebe Griffith of the Institute for Public Policy research.
“The UK’s position as a hub for global talent is being questioned,” she said.
To ensure the UK remains attractive to international talent, Stevens said that the future immigration policy will need to be streamlined and include post-study work opportunities and options for long term migration with routes to residency.
But it wasn’t just education stakeholders to voice support for international students.
For Jane Gratton, Head of Business Environment and Skills Policy at British Chambers of Commerce, a migration policy that benefits British business should see students taken out of the net migration figures.
Shadow home secretary, the Labour party’s Diane Abbott, showed her support to students in her closing remarks.
“We welcome international students and we will encourage them to stay here,” she said.
“The cultural, educational, social benefits they bring are enormous. We are committed to taking international students out of the current immigration target.”
Agreement on this issue was almost unanimous, except for Migration Watch vice president Alp Mehmet who however said he was “delighted” that international students’ compliance to their visa terms had been supported by evidence in two reports in 2016.
Commenting on the discussions taking place at the forum, English UK Chief Executive Sarah Cooper told The PIE News that she was “encouraged” by the support international students were given, and hopeful that the government will continue working with industry stakeholders to develop the immigration bill.
“The voice in support of international students is getting louder and louder”
“We have a very healthy dialogue [with the Home Office]… but of course what we are all eagerly waiting for is the draft immigration bill,” said Cooper
But taking international students out of the net migration target may not be enough to solve concerns for the ELT industry, Cooper pointed out.
“As professor Wadsworth said… there is no doubt this government will stop free movement [from the EU]. My major concern is that my particular sector of the education industry is vulnerable to that very change,” she explained.
With 60% of students coming from the EU, Cooper explained, the ELT industry is in danger of seeing numbers drop if EU students are required to apply for visas or if they lose the right to work while studying.
“All of my European students, I feel they are under threat. But until we see the shape of what this policy will look like, we don’t know the extent of that threat,” she said.
“The voice in support of international students is getting louder and louder and it’s being more widely heard especially in government – but I won’t relax until I see what’s in the policy and I can feel certain that my EU students will be protected,” she concluded.
The UK government did not send a representative to this event but the Home Office has previously stated that there is no limit to the number of student visa issued, and the UK remains steadfast in its commitment to international students.