Speaking about Chinese students in particular, Willetts signalled he believed it would be a competitive strength for the UK if more graduating Chinese were able to stay on and work, and “advise on marketing materials for goods and services to be sold back in China,” for example.
He said that at present, employers have to fill in a complicated form and meet minimum salary threshold requirements to hire a graduate.
“I would be a bit more permissive,” he said, observing that hiring such skilled graduates could be good for the British economy.
Willetts, who served as minister for universities and science between 2010 and 2014, also signalled that he did not believe international students should be counted as migrants.
This is an endorsement for a position favoured by many in the sector that students should, of course, be counted, but not included in the overall net migration numbers which the government is intent on reducing.
“Some students from overseas do turn into migrants,” acknowledged Willetts – noting legitimate routes such as marriage and post-study work.
But he said most were entering the UK to gain a qualification and then returning home: “That’s what most overseas students are doing, and I’m arguing that’s not migration.”
He continued, “Although if [students] are here for more than a year it counts as migration in the United Nations definition of migration, it’s not really migration, which is why many other countries don’t use it as a basis for policy, and we shouldn’t in Britain either.”
Willetts also spoke about the significant management time that can be required with TNE projects and his desire to see another large British private education company that could rival Pearson in scale.
Read the full interview here.
Earlier this month Vivienne Stern, director of UUK International, also suggested that a revision of current guidelines around post-study work would help the UK competitive position post-Brexit.