Sam Gyimah told delegates at Independent HE’s conference in London that he was “hugely supportive” of growing the UK’s international student base.
“We need to do everything to make sure that growth continues”
“If you look at all the data, we are lagging behind our competitors at the moment,” he said.
“We have a tremendous product in terms of our higher education system,” Gyimah stated, adding the sector is “larger than our car manufacturing sector”.
“A huge part of that growth comes from international students. We need to do everything to make sure that growth continues and we are competitive with the rest of the world.”
Gyimah added that he had spoken to the home secretary about how immigration policy is affecting the number of students entering the country, and that a cross party white paper is due to be published soon.
He is “confident” his government understands the importance of international students to the sector.
“The MAC review was very helpful in terms of the evidence base, that [international students] contribute to the economy, that they provide value and a lot of them go back.
“Given that we are starting on a very solid evidence basis we have a lot in our armoury to lobby for the case and make sure we get the best deal for the sector.”
However, Gyimah did not delve deeply into how the government will ensure continuing growth.
He did not mention creating a target for international student numbers, nor did he mention a reintroduction of post study work visas.
Despite the APPG’s recent report which suggested the government set a “clear and ambitious target” similar to countries such as Canada, Germany and Ireland, the minister did not broach the topics of targets.
The report also recommends removing students from targets to reduce net migration and an improvement on the UK’s PSW offer, neither of which the minister addressed.
However, Paul Blomfield MP for Sheffield Central and co-chair of the International Students APPG said later the government seems to be discussing a new post Brexit youth mobility scheme.
“They are talking about providing young people with the opportunity to work in the UK for a couple of years. Well, that’s not a million miles away from what we are recommending,” he said at the conference.
Gyimah also emphasised his desire of ensuring that his department leads the sector through the “big opportunities and big challenges” of Brexit, and that the sector maintains its world-class reputation.
“The new program for [Erasmus+] hasn’t been designed yet, so we will have to negotiate…we’ve made it very clear to the commission that we want to explore participation, it’s good for us, it’s good for the EU.”