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Pursuit of artificial immigration targets will cause real damage to UK universities and colleges

economy, higher education, integration, migration, regional issues, trade

Published date:  22 Feb 2011

Tens of thousands of genuine international students are at risk of being turned away from British universities and colleges, costing the UK billions of pounds, in pursuit of an artificial target for cutting immigration. That is the conclusion of new research from ippr.

The government has pledged to cut annual net migration to the UK ‘from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands’. However, ippr’s analysis shows that reducing student immigration will have only short-lived impacts on total net migration because only a small proportion of international students end up staying in the UK permanently. Although restricting the entry of foreign students would reduce net migration in the short term by cutting immigration, emigration would also decline in future years. This means that even large reductions in student immigration will deliver only small reductions in net migration in the longer term.

The UK’s education sector makes a valuable contribution to the economy, and to export earnings – it is estimated that international students bring up to £10 billion into the UK economy every year through fees and direct spending alone. Education institutions themselves would be badly hit by reduced international student numbers, at a time when funding is already extremely tight – the potential impacts could include job losses, some courses and departments no longer being viable, and increased costs for UK students.

Sarah Mulley, Associate Director for Migration, Trade and Development at ippr said:

'In the run-up to the announcement of severe cuts in international student numbers, the government has made much of abuse of the student visa system. It is absolutely right to clamp down this – everybody agrees with that. But emphasising this issue now is something of a smokescreen, because the best evidence suggests that the vast majority of international students come here legitimately and most stay for only a short time. The government will not reduce immigration in a big way by tackling student visa cheats. To meet their election pledge, they will have to significantly reduce the number of legitimate international students, and their proposals would do just that. This will cause real damage to the education sector, and the wider British economy, all in pursuit of an artificial migration target.'

The report welcomes proposals to further tighten rules for the education institutions which sponsor international students in order to reduce abuse of the student visa system, and suggests that these changes should also be backed up by a range of other measures to prevent abuse, but raises concerns about the government’s wider proposals.  The report argues that many of the changes proposed would have the effect of damaging the recruitment of legitimate international students, and are based on limited or unreliable evidence.

Notes to editors

Download the report Student migration in the UK. This research was funded by Universities UK.

The Government is currently considering reforms to the UK’s student immigration system, and set out proposals in December 2010 consultation document.

Student immigration from outside the EEA is a major immigration flow to the UK relative to other immigration flows.  Home Office data on student arrivals suggests that student immigration has been relatively stable in recent years (and was just over 270,000 in 2009).

There is no reliable data on the contribution that student immigration makes to net migration (as opposed to total immigration), but the best evidence available suggests that a relatively small proportion of student migrants (only around 20 per cent) stay in the UK for five years or more, and that an even smaller proportion settle in the UK permanently (no more than 10 per cent) – the vast majority of international students stay in the UK only temporarily.  This means that even large reductions in student immigration will deliver only small reductions in net migration.

Data on abuse and non-compliance is limited, but suggests that rates of non-compliance in the student visa system are relatively low.
Around half of the non-EEA students admitted to the UK are studying at universities.  Around 60% are studying for courses at degree level or higher, but many of these students progress to degree-level study from pathway courses in the UK.

Regional economic impacts of international students at universities in England:

East Midlands
International revenue: nearly £181 million
Estimated off-campus expenditure by international students: £146 million
Total export earnings: £327 million

East of England
International revenue: nearly £265 million
Estimated off-campus expenditure by international students: £149 million
Total export earnings: £414 million

London
International revenue: nearly £786 million
Estimated off-campus expenditure by international students: £584 million
Total export earnings: £1,379 million

North East
International revenue: nearly £123 million
Estimated off-campus expenditure by international students: £111 million
Total export earnings: £234 million

North West
International revenue: nearly £240 million
Estimated off-campus expenditure by international students: £205 million
Total export earnings: £445 million

South East
International revenue: nearly £381 million
Estimated off-campus expenditure by international students: £261 million
Total export earnings: £642 million

South West
International revenue: nearly £125 million
Estimated off-campus expenditure by international students: £113 million
Total export earnings: £238 million

West Midlands
International revenue: nearly £194 million
Estimated off-campus expenditure by international students: £187 million
Total export earnings: £381 million

Yorkshire and Humberside
International revenue: nearly £216 million
Estimated off-campus expenditure by international students: £181 million
Total export earnings: £397 million
Source: Data from academic year 2007/08, reported in Kelly et al 2010

Contact

Tim Finch, Director of Communications: 020 7470 6110 / 07595 920 899 / t.finch@ippr.org