International students are abandoning Britain – we must stem the tide

International students are abandoning Britain – we must stem the tide

Britain is losing the battle to attract talented and committed international students from around the world. Eight years after the coalition government imposed an impossible target of reducing annual net migration to the tens of thousands, our traditional position as the world’s second largest destination for international students is in jeopardy.

The UK is a small country, yet has punched above its weight in terms of our financial sector, our tech start-ups, our high-value manufacturing, art and music and, of course, our universities. Along with the US, Britain’s higher education institutions are consistently ranked as the best in the world.

With less than 1% of the world’s population, the UK publishes 16% of the world’s highly cited research papers. It is no wonder that people from across the globe come to study in this country.

The vast majority of international students do not choose to stay in the UK after graduating. Accusations of students “overstaying their welcome” have proved unfounded, with exit-check data finding that 97.4% of overseas students depart on time. UK immigration policy has stripped us of the benefits of attracting these bright, talented and qualified students to contribute to the UK.

Quite incomprehensibly, international students are still included in the government’s net migrations target – which is completely political and spurious.

The government has failed to come anywhere near to achieving it, and the figures show that it will still fail to do so even after it “takes back control” after Brexit. In its failed attempts to reach net migration of less than 100,000 per year – and by including international students within this figure – the UK government is sending out a negative message. It risks allowing our competitors – particularly Australia and Canada, as well as the likes of Germany and France within the EU – to not only catch up but overtake us.

International students are a jewel in Britain’s crown: data last year showed58 world leaders have been educated at British universities, more than any other country. Not only are they a vital source of soft power, but universities also bring in £26bn to the UK economy each year thanks – directly and indirectly – to international students.

We are in a global race. Our competitor countries are continually increasing their market share of international students – growing at double-digit percentage rates per year, while we have been flatlining.

In a report released today by the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Students, which I co-chair with the Sheffield MP Paul Blomfield, we have set out 12 recommendations to ensure Britain’s status as a top-tier destination remains.

As a first step, the government must commit to removing students from net migration figures. There must also be attractive post-study work visas available – such as those I helped to introduce through parliament a decade ago and that the coalition government scrapped in 2012 – and we must maintain an open relationship with the European Union that allows for free movement of students and researchers.

I am proud that students from around the world want to come and study in the UK. The public’s attitude towards them is similarly positive – just last week we saw an outpouring of support for a former international student, Rahul Mandal, the winner of the Great British Bake Off.

I am proud to live in multicultural Britain. But British immigration policy, particularly with regard to international students, is totally out of step with our modern nation.

Lord Bilimoria is the founder and chairman of Cobra Beer and president of the UK Council for International Student Affairs

Guardian

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