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UK sector campaigns against home secretary’s “deeply divisive” rhetoric

The international education sector has continued to fight back after the UK home secretary’s string of statements and announcements of her intent to cut both international student and dependant visas.

International students are responsible for around 70% of all education export earnings. Photo: Unsplash

Many in the sector believe that international postgraduate students are being unfairly targeted

Janet Beer, vice-chancellor of University of Liverpool and past president of UUK, described Braverman’s comments as “troubling” and “alarming”.

“The comments made by Braverman over the course of the [Conservative party] conference escalated quickly,” noted Beer in an article for Politics Home.

Referring to Bravermen’s comments that too many international students choose the UK, do not contribute to economic growth and bring too many dependants, Beer said that “even a cursory look at the data shows this to be false”.

“International students are, overwhelmingly, net contributors to the UK economy to the tune of at least £25.9bn a year. There isn’t a single parliamentary constituency that doesn’t benefit from international students,” she continued.

Beer pointed out that this includes Braverman’s constituency of Fareham, which experienced a net benefit of more than £20 million a year.

“There are many PG courses that are only sustainable due to their popularity with international students”

Beer reminded readers of the aim of the government’s cross-departmental strategy to grow education export earnings to £35 billion by 2030.

“It is an unashamedly pro-growth strategy which recognises the huge benefits that can be realised for communities across the whole of the UK and as international students are responsible for around 70% of all education export earnings, to reverse course now would be a body blow to the realisation of this ambition,” she said.

Since Braverman’s comments on dependants refer only to postgraduate students – as undergraduate students are not permitted to bring in dependants – many in the sector feel that postgraduate students are being unfairly targeted.

Anne-Marie Graham, chief executive of UKCISA, also wrote an article for Wonkhe.

“Why should they be denied their opportunity for a world-class education? An opportunity that they are fully funding, with no negative impact on UK public funds, and one which ensures that they (and their dependants) are contributing to their local economy while they are studying here,” she said.

“I’m not sure what the basis for these comments is, but it is certainly not based on Home Office data. The Home Office defines clear restrictions for student dependants, and monitors these closely,” Graham added.

Vivienne Stern, chief executive of Universities UK, pointed out that cuts in the number of incoming post-graduate international students would have a “material impact on how much money universities have got to spend on research”.

She highlighted the importance of recognising “how much there is a cross-subsidy between the research effort in universities and the income that international students’ fees bring in”.

Jamie Arrowsmith, acting director, Universities UK International, who recently spoke to The PIE on the importance of the UK remaining “an open and welcoming destination for international students and talent from across the world”, described Braverman’s recent rhetoric as “deeply divisive”.

He wrote in The Times that, “There are many postgraduate-level courses that are only sustainable due to their popularity with international students, helping to increase choice for domestic students.”

Speaking at a NISAU event launching the UK India Achievers program, House of Lords peer Karan Bilimoria said,“You get negative sounds from certain quarters in government at the moment about international students and I think yes, you should be wary. Nobody wants open borders. But undergraduates can’t bring dependents.”

Bilimoria highlighted that most postgraduate students who bring their dependants with them to UK, eventually do leave.

Also speaking at the event, former universities minister Jo Johnson noted how “timely” it was to be brought together to “celebrate again the contributions that international students make to our communities, to our universities and to our country”. 

Johnson urged the social benefits, as well as the economic contributions, of international students to be remembered.

“International students form friendships, we hope, that go on to become ties of trade, commerce, diplomacy, that stand us in great stead as a country,” he said.

“That is really a great asset and a great tool and instrument for UK soft power”

“It helps us tremendously that we have people here who studied among us, who begin to understand our world view, who understand our country and our system and our way of life. That is really a great asset and a great tool and instrument for UK soft power,” Johnson continued.

Johnson made earlier comments to Times Radio warning that Braverman’s comments would “bode ill for her period as home secretary if this is going to be her approach to, frankly, one of the most promising export industries that the UK has”.

According to Johnson, the UK’s higher education sector is one of the few globally competitive industries the country has.

“If we want to be a science superpower, which is one of the Government’s objectives, you can kiss goodbye to that completely if we don’t have international students” he added.

Graham at UKCISA opposed the ideology that international students are an unnecessary pressure on resources.

“Students and dependants pay £470 per year for access to the NHS, and many of them will have no health issues during their stay and not even use a GP. If all they get for their money is an annual Covid-19 vaccination, then the UK public sector is getting a fair deal,” she said.

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