On the same day that the Migration Advisory Committee published its long-awaited report, the Group was presented with evidence of the vital role that international students play in increasing the UK’s global research capabilities, trade links and supporting regional industries post-study.
“For young people looking to study abroad, any restrictions… and they will want to study elsewhere”
Crucial to the pressure being asserted was Conor Burns, MP for Bournemouth which is a well-known ELT hub. Not only did he make clear that the local community was solid supporters of international students (local buses gaining subsidy from institutions as one example cited), but he told the session and his colleagues that he would submit an amendment to the upcoming Immigration Bill.
Despite the MAC suggesting students should remain in the net migration stats, and therefore be included in the target to slash immigrant numbers, Burns said he would ask parliament to remove them from the figure through an amendment which would potentially be voted on in both chambers of parliament. He said he believed it would pass if members were asked.
Representing BETA, chairman Steve Lowy told the chair of the first session, Paul Blomfield MP, that the value of youth travel to the UK is around £24bn – although the pace of growth is slower than some of the UK’s competitors.
But while young people are given “amazing experiences” while in the country, Lowy voiced concerns about potential deterrents to them staying for longer periods.
“The lack of a post-study work visa, for example, is a major issue, because we are giving these students a great education and the skills to set up a business, then telling them they cannot do it in this country”, said Lowy.
“For young people at 18 looking to study abroad, any restrictions along the route, and they will want to study elsewhere.”
He also pointed out that if an international student has had a pleasant experience in the UK, they will become “the best ambassador you can get for the country”.
Matthew Rous, chief executive of China-Britain Business Council added that the families of Chinese students who have studied in the UK are much more likely to become repeat visitors, loyal consumers of UK brands and advocates of the country.
“Businesses are concerned about skill gaps and job vacancies”
“Chinese students not only make a very important contribution when studying here, but they are extremely active users of social media, which is an effective channel that overcomes language barriers for communicating positive messages about the UK to their friends and family back home,” he said.
However, in response to questions from vice-chair Alison Thewliss MP around the welcoming message projected by the UK to prospective students and businesses abroad, Kevin McCole of UK India Business Council warned that in India, “there is a perception that Britain doesn’t want them to study and work here”, with both Lowy and Rous adding that more could be done to improve the message.
Another voice of business was heard later in the day, from Jane Gratton of the British Chamber of Commerce. She said that employers were scared at the prospect of losing talent to markets with better post-study work rights.
“[Businesses] are concerned about skill gaps and job vacancies,” she said, adding that “[members] want students removed from the migration targets”.
Ruth Arnold, director of Public Affairs at Sheffield University told the Group that international students contribute hugely to the Sheffield region through work and if the UK wants great research to and civic impact, it needs to actively welcome more of them.
In response to questions from Baroness Uddin about the types of roles that international students take on in different regions, Arnold said that it ranged from supporting SME and STEM roles to “being doctors in local hospitals…many of which are absolutely sustained by international students paying higher fees.”
Sheffield City mayor Dan Jarvis MP echoed Arnold’s points, adding that he has personally observed the “added benefit” of a prominent culture of volunteering among international students.
From Ulster University, director for Global Engagement Catriona McCarthy highlighted 2017 research by the university showing how international students generate an estimated £123 million in export earnings for Northern Ireland.
“However if international student numbers grew to similar proportions that we find elsewhere in the UK, we would see almost 130% increase in jobs supported by these students and their visitors,” she explained.
The APPG inquiry report will be published in October 2018 and The PIE News will cover the launch and reaction.