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UK’s status as top study destination “at risk”, IPPR report claims

The UK’s hard line on lowering net migration targets and restricting post-study work rights threatens its position as the world’s second most popular study destination, according to a report published today by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).

"We are pursuing policies which could cause lasting damage to a sector of our economy worth £13 billion"

The report calls for the government to abandon its net migration target, extend post-study work rights to international students and increase the number of students studying in “pathway” channels.

Figures from the report show that foreign students bring in around £13 billion to the UK economy and generate almost 70,000 jobs, making it the UK’s fifth largest services export.

The right to work 40 hours a week during study should be an entitlement to all students

However, while the UK maintains its position as the second most popular study destination, it has lost market share while the other top eight destinations either increased or maintained their share, claims the report.

IPPR analysis indicates that the number of international students coming to the UK has decreased in terms of global market share by 29% since 2010.

“The UK should be hanging out a banner saying ‘Foreign students welcome here’,” said Alice Sachrajda, Research Fellow at IPPR. “Instead the UK is doing the opposite.”

“We are pursuing policies which could cause lasting damage to a sector of our economy worth £13 billion and in which the UK is a world leader,” she added.

The study coincides with the latest quarterly immigration statistics from ONS that show a 3% increase in study-related visa applications in the 12 months to September 2013, led mostly by an 8% and 27% increase in Chinese and Malaysian applications respectively but with significant falls in Pakistani (-60%) and Indian (-24%) students.

But gains were not seen across all sectors as FE applications fell 31% in the year between September 2012 and September 2013. This decline follows a fall in FE visas issued by 46% in the year to December 2012, resulting in an £11 million decrease in tuition fees.

Additional drops in enrolments at English language schools and further education colleges “is likely to have a severe knock-on effect on the higher education sector further down the line,” the report warns.

“It is vitally important to increase the number of international students in pathway programmes (in further education or receiving English language tuition, and in both public and private education settings), rather than focusing purely on increasing the number of students in higher education,” it states.

In order to increase international student numbers, the report recommends abandoning the government’s net migration target saying it creates a “perverse incentive for cutting international student numbers” and being more selective in the credibility interviews for Tier 4 applicants.

It supports the £100-£200 per year levy to ensure access to the National Health Service but says the fee should be offset by advantages in the form of increased work rights after study.

“It is vitally important to increase the number of international students in pathway programmes”

It argues that the right to work 40 hours a week during study should be an entitlement to all students regardless of whether they attend a public or private institution that provides further or higher education. Currently, students attending a private institution are not allowed to work during their term of study.

In response to the report, the Home Office said that to ensure the UK’s education system remains “one of the best in the world” it must tackle “widespread abuse of the student visa system” seen in the past.

“However, there is no limit on the number of genuine international students who can come here and latest figures show that sponsored student visa applications for our world class universities have increased,” said a spokesperson.

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