Some stakeholders in the international education industry believe the distinction is a “game changer”, which could signal further policy change to separate student numbers from the net migration figure (currently standing at 183,000 and down significantly in the last quarter). The UK government is committed to reducing net migration to the “tens of thousands” by 2015.
Earlier this year, we reported on a leaked letter from Universities Minister, David Willetts, to the Deputy Prime Minister, in which Willetts said he wanted to “explore ways of presenting net migration figures” to make it apparent that foreign students were not bearing the brunt of the UK’s mission to reduce net migration.
ONS released its migration quarterly report last week which showed a fall of 60,000 in the year to March 2012, driven mostly by a reduction in the number of overseas students coming to the UK. In total, 20,000 fewer students arrived to study by year-end March 2012, compared with March 2011. Among those nationalities on the decline were India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh (although China and Pakistan bucked this trend).
From August, ONS statistics will include responses to questions introduced to the IPS in January of this year which ask those leaving the UK what their main reason for migrating was when they arrived and asking emigrants if they have studied while in the UK. Arriving students will also be asked whether they will be entering higher education or further education.
“This will give ONS better information on emigrants who originally arrived in the UK to study, or who arrived for another reason but studied whilst they are in the UK”
“This will give ONS better information on emigrants who originally arrived in the UK to study, or who arrived for another reason but studied whilst they are in the UK,” James Campbell of ONS told The PIE News.
He explained, “There are issues to consider when interpreting net migration estimates by reason for migration and particularly for students. A migrant who arrived in the UK to study may subsequently leave to take up a job abroad, and the [current] International Passenger Survey does not record the initial reason for coming to the UK when interviewing those migrants leaving.”
A spokesperson from a leading sector association told The PIE News that the confirmed date to see the figures “could be a game changer because it may reduce the pressure to cut the student numbers” .
Other industry bodies support the separation but say the move falls short of necessary policy reform. “Unless the policy changes, they’re just two sets of figures that people can add up and put together which may not actually change. But it does show that at least the pendulum is beginning to swing,” commented Dominic Scott, chief executive of the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA).
However, in other quarters, the government came in for more criticism last week over an increase in non-EU student arrivals via the Student Visitor Visa route (up by 12% to end September), with the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) suggesting this could create “new enforcement problems in the future”.
A report from Chief Inspector of Immigration John Vine showed that the UKBA had failed to act on a backlog of 150,000 notifications of Student Visitor Visa violations
And a damning report from Chief Inspector of Immigration John Vine last week showed that the UKBA had a backlog of 152,000 notifications of “change of circumstance” concerning Tier 4 holders, meaning thousands may be breaking the terms of their visa. The announcement could prove damaging to the perception of students studying on short-term visitor visas, mostly coming to the UK for English language courses.
But English UK said it was a mistake to assume that 150,000 overseas students had stayed in the UK when they were not entitled to, or are even in the country. The organisation said the system is at fault – and falsely brands some students as “overstayers”.