“If we do not redress the impression that students are not welcome then we will see further reductions from other countries”
During the second reading of the bill, which Professor Robert Winston called “pretty cruel”, Lord Bilimoria, Chairman of Cobra Beer, blasted Prime Minister Cameron’s “madcap immigration cap”.
He argued that Britain is “sending out the wrong messages” by not excluding international student numbers from immigration figures like its competitors Canada, Australia and the US.
He cited findings that non-EU student numbers in the UK fell for the first time last year, with a 25% drop in Indian student enrolments.
Lord Clement-Jones, Liberal Democrat spokesman for Culture, Media and Sport, warned that “If we do not redress the impression that students are not welcome then we will see further reductions from other countries,” adding that international students in higher education contributed over £10 billion to the UK economy in 2011-12.
A recent NUS International survey of over 3,000 non-EU students’ perceptions of the bill, in which 51% of respondents said they felt that the UK is unwelcoming towards international students, was cited several times during the debate.
Almost three quarters of survey respondents said that the annual £150 NHS levy would make it difficult or impossible for them to study in the UK.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach, the Conservative minister who moved the bill, rebuffed these claims, arguing that the levy added only 1% to the overall cost of studying in the UK.
Summing up, the Lord Minister noted that students attending Harvard in the US would pay $958 per year to access basic health services, or a further $2,190 for a more comprehensive plan, compared to £450 for NHS coverage over a three year degree.
However, Lord Bilimoria claimed the fees would deter prospective students as “the perception, unfortunately, is the reality”.
“Landlords will be discouraged from letting accommodation to international students and staff, and they will be relegated to the back of the queue”
Proposed landlord checks on migrants’ legal status also came under fire. Lord Clement-Jones contended that “Landlords will be discouraged from letting accommodation to international students and staff, and they will be relegated to the back of the queue in the search for accommodation”.
Lord Bilimoria offered a series of recommendations including scrapping the NHS levy and landlord checks; excluding students from immigrant figures; introducing a system in which everyone’s passports are scanned in and out of the country; and reintroducing the post-study work visa.