Press Story

New analysis from IPPR published today shows that by relying on questionable migration data the government may be doing unnecessary harm to the UK economy:

  • According to the International Passenger Survey (IPS) data the government uses for its net migration target, students staying in the UK after their studies appear to make up a large proportion of net migration - however this data is highly questionable;
  • While it is right to tackle abuse, this has led the government to implement measures that have hit legitimate colleges and students across the whole sector, damaging the UK’s reputation with international students and our economy as a result;
  • To halt this decline, the government must replace its net migration target, follow Australia by setting out a ten-year plan for expanding the international education sector; and appoint a Minister for International Education.

Marley Morris, Research Fellow at IPPR, said:

“The number of international students coming to the UK is falling, in part because of the Government’s efforts to cut net migration to the tens of thousands.

“Our research suggests that many of the students they are targeting may be phantom students who are no longer in the country.

“Following the Brexit vote the Government should be doing all it can to secure investment in the UK. But its current self-destructive policy is deterring genuine international students and putting the billions they bring to the UK at real risk.”


Notes to Editors:

1. According to the data used to calculate net migration figures – the International Passenger Survey (IPS) – non-EU students appear to make up a large proportion of total net migration. Ministers have claimed on the basis of this data that around 90,000 are not leaving after completing their courses. However, our analysis shows this does not appear to correlate with a number of other data sources:

a. The Home Office’s visa data suggests that only around 40,000 non-EU individuals who came to the UK on student visas still have valid leave to remain five years later;
b. The Annual Population Survey suggests that only around 30,000-40,000 non-EU migrants who originally came as students are still in the UK population after five years;
c. The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) Destination of Leavers Survey suggests that three quarters of non-EU higher education students who are working six months after completing their studies are employed outside of the UK.

While all these data sources measure slightly different things and each has methodological limitations, the large difference between the IPS and the other sources suggests that the assumption that more than 90,000 non-EU international students are not leaving the UK at the end of their studies is not reliable enough to be used as a guide for policy and particularly one that has proven to be so damaging to the economy and the soft power of the UK.

2. The number of students coming to the UK has fallen over the past six years and the number enrolling in higher education has stagnated. This is worrying, as education exports are worth around £18 billion to the UK economy, with the fees and expenses of international students comprising more than three quarters of earnings.

3. IPPR aims to influence policy in the present and reinvent progressive politics in the future, and is dedicated to the better country that Britain can be through progressive policy and politics. With nearly 60 staff across four offices throughout the UK, IPPR is Britain’s only national think tank with a truly national presence.

Our independent research is wide ranging, it covers the economy, work, skills, transport, democracy, the environment, education, energy, migration and healthcare among many other areas.


Kieren Walters,, 07921 403651
Sofie Jenkinson,, 07981 023031