In each of their manifestos the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Greens, UK Independence Party and the Scottish National Party made pledges on divisive issues that could impact the UK’s international education exports, which contribute some £10bn to the economy.
“Most parties have suggested that there should be a clampdown on the abuse of student visas”
Post-study work rights are focused on by some parties, with current coalition partner of the Conservative government, the Lib Dems, proposing post-study work visas for students graduating in STEM subjects, who can find graduate-level employment within six months of completing their degree.
And Labour’s Liam Byrne has already proposed the removal of students from the net migration count.
But commentator and President of the UK Council of International Student Affairs, Dominic Scott, told The PIE News that most parties appear to be “nervous of saying anything very positive on immigration issues”.
Most parties have suggested that there should be a clampdown on any abuse of student visas, with the Conservatives promising a review of the system alongside “new measures to tackle abuse and reduce the numbers of students overstaying once their visas expire”.
Meanwhile, left-of-centre Labour, the current opposition party, is pushing for a tightening of the visa system, with the left-leaning Liberal Democrats pledging to take action against those abusing it.
UKIP, which is calling for the most stringent curbs on immigration, recognise that international students make “an important contribution to the UK”, but want to look into which institutions can take in students from overseas.
The Green Party has emphasised that there shall be “no restrictions on foreign students”.
The Green Party has emphasised that there shall be “no restrictions on foreign students.”
Scott commented the forthcoming election “was an opportunity for both of the main parties to accept that following reform, students and visas were no longer a major concern for voters and the country”.
“But they do not, as yet, appear to have been brave enough to take it although things might change once any government is in power.”
With the topic of immigration being a key point of discussion in this general election, some parties have pledged to remove international students from net migration statistics and targets.
The Liberal Democrats and UKIP have planned to remove them from the figures in their manifestos, with UKIP justifying this “because students are in Britain only on a temporary basis.”
Labour’s shadow universities, science and skills minister, Byrne, promised the removal of international students in net migration targets at the Universities UK conference last year.
“We are concerned that the Conservatives, though talking very positively about university students, continue to press down on net migration and make no reference to removing students from that policy,” said Scott.
The Liberal Democrats wish to re-instate post-study work visas for students graduating in STEM subjects
He added: “We are also concerned that Labour, again whilst mentioning the importance of students in general, seem to be pre-occupied with ‘short term students’ where we know of no evidence of abuse and think is a distraction – as this continues to put international students and visas in the spotlight.”
As for post-study work opportunities, as well as the Lib Dems calling for limited reinstatement of PSW, the Greens have outlined that they want to allow students to work in the UK for two years after graduation – the central peg to the Tier 1 policy that was in place until April 2012.
The Scottish National Party also wish to “see the reintroduction of the post-study work visa so students who have been educated in Scotland can spend two years working here after their studies and can contribute to growing our economy.”
Polls this week from YouGov, an independent market research firm, show Labour leading the conservatives by a slim margin of 35% to 34% with UKIP gaining the next largest share of votes, 13% and the Lib Dems 8%.
Meanwhile in Scotland, the SNP has a 43% lead over the country’s traditionally popular Labour according to a Guardian/ICM poll last month.