‘UK government’s stand on international students deeply regrettable’

Vidya Ram London | Updated on January 15, 2018


House of Lords member says the issue of Britain’s treatment of foreign students won’t subside, despite the government’s decision not to take them out of net migration figures

The issue of Britain’s treatment of international students won’t subside, despite the government’s decision not to take them out of net migration figures, Lord Hannay, a crossbench member of the House of Lords, has said.

“I think it’s deeply regrettable, but the issue won’t go away — the falling enrolment figures are not going to go away,” said former diplomat Lord Hannay of Chiswick. He was one of the members who had put forward an amendment to higher education legislation in the Parliament, that would have removed international students from net migration figures. “We are losing market share to our competitors, and this is not good news for British universities or Britain as a whole.”

Hopes rose last week as The Times reported that the government was prepared to negotiate on the issue, to ensure the smooth passage of the Higher Education Bill before the dissolution of the Parliament, as Britain prepares to go to the polls. The House of Lords had passed the amendment, which has returned to the House of Commons this week. While the amendment was yet to be considered by the House at the time of writing, the Financial Times reported that the government will not give way, erasing it from the legislation on Wednesday. This was a development Lord Hannay reiterated to BusinessLine.

However, the issue will remain in the public arena, particularly as legislation on a new immigration system will have to come before the Houses of Parliament as part of Brexit, he said. “The first thing to watch for will be the manifestos of the main political parties, on this issue,” he said, noting that the Labour party had previously campaigned to end the practice of treating students as economic migrants.

He noted that the government’s decision to not change the policy came up despite increased evidence that members of the public did not see students as migrants, and had a positive view of their impact on local communities and the economy. Research published by Universities UK, the representative body of varsities, last week, found that just 26 per cent thought of international students as “immigrants” in international policy.

The research also came as the House of Commons Education Committee published a report on Brexit and higher education, recommending that international students be removed from the net migration target. “The government’s refusal to do so is putting at risk the higher education sector’s share of the international student market. Removing international students from the target will be a simple way to offset some of the risks from leaving the European Union.”

Published on April 25, 2017

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