Overseas students should not count towards net migration, say MPs
A committee of MPs has called on the government to exclude overseas students from figures on net migration, warning that current policy risks "undermining a world class export market".
The Business, Innovation and Skills committee makes the call in a report, Overseas students and net migration, published today following an inquiry that took evidence from Universities UK, former immigration minister Damian Green and the Institute of Directors.
The report comes a week after the UK Border Agency's decision to strip London Metropolitan University of its licence to recruit international students.
The committee says in its report: "While we accept that the government has made a clear political commitment to reduce net migration, the inclusion of overseas students at accredited institutions in the overall total is misleading.
"Furthermore, it runs the risk of undermining a world-class export market. Given the existing number of overseas students studying in the United Kingdom, the government's ambition to limit net migration to the 'tens of thousands' is clearly in conflict with the ambition to expand the United Kingdom's share of the overseas student market."
The report was endorsed by all of the committee, made up of five Conservative MPs, five Labour and one Liberal Democrat. By voting for the report, the Conservative backbenchers appear to be in conflict with their own party's policy on immigration.
The report notes that in January 2012 the number of applications from overseas students to attend UK universities had increased by 13 per cent compared with the previous year. However, the equivalent figure in May 2012 was 10 per cent, while the June figure was 8.5 per cent.
The report says it is "clear that the government's policies in respect of student immigration have played a significant part in this decline".
The committee report will be a huge boost for UUK, which has lobbied hard in its bid for university-sponsored international students to be excluded from the net migrant count.
The committee also says: "The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has a responsibility to support UK universities, and to promote export success. As a matter of urgency it needs to demonstrate that it has an active strategy to support the expansion of this important and lucrative market."
Paul Blomfield, a Labour member of the BIS committee, said: "We need to undo the damage of previous policy and the Home Office response to problems at London Met, with a fresh approach that sends a clear message around the world that international students are welcome in the UK.
"I hope that the new immigration minister [Mark Harper] takes our report's recommendations very seriously. Taking students out of net migration targets would get him off to a very good start in his job."