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The Progressive Policy Think Tank

UK should be welcoming foreign students, not turning them away

UK losing out to competitors as numbers drop 29 per cent since 2010.

The UK risks losing its status as the second most popular destination for international students because of the net migration target and confusing work rules, according to a new IPPR report published today. The report entitled 'Britain wants you!' is published ahead of the latest quarterly migration statistics, published today (Thurs).

The report shows that foreign students bring in around £13 billion to the UK economy and generate almost 70,000 jobs. This makes it one of this country's most important sectors. But if the UK loses more foreign students it will damage the economy and put universities under increased financial pressure.

IPPR analysis shows that the number of international students coming to the UK has decreased by 29 per cent since 2010. While some of that is explained by tighter rules to prevent abuse of foreign student visas, the report authors argue that a more significant factor is that ministers need to drive down the number of legitimate foreign students to meet their net migration target.

As a sign of the confusion at the heart of government policy, while the Home Office is pursuing policies which clamp down on legitimate student numbers, BIS 'believe it is realistic' for numbers of international students in higher education to grow by 15-20 per cent over the next five years.

The report shows that the UK remains the second most popular destination for international students, but our market share has declined while other countries in the top eight of the market increased or retained their share.

The report shows applications from students for further education courses has fallen by 46 per cent, which matters because 40 per cent of all international students come into university via 'pathway programmes' at further education colleges or English language schools.

The report argues that the government should make the UK a more appealing place for high achieving students by allowing them to work for more hours while they study in the UK. Competitor countries like Australia have already taken such steps. The report recommends that all students studying in the UK for more than a year should be entitled to work up to 40 hours every fortnight. The report also argues that pathways for foreign students with valuable skills to take on jobs in the UK after their studies should be made less complicated.

Alice Sachrajda, Research Fellow at IPPR, said:

"The UK should be hanging out a banner saying "Foreign students welcome here". Instead the UK is doing the opposite. We are pursuing policies which could cause lasting damage to a sector of our economy worth £13 billion and in which the UK is a world leader.

"The reduction in foreign student numbers is being driven by the net migration target, which is designed to meet the public's concern about high immigration. But foreign students are not the focus of that concern, because as the report shows they come for a relatively short time, go home after their studies and contribute much more than they take out while they are here.

"The government is right to maintain constant vigilance over 'bogus colleges' and abuse of student visas. It is unacceptable that tens of thousands of people have entered the UK to work on a student visa since 2009. The government was right to introduce new controls to counter this and other forms of abuse, such as overstaying visas, or people without sufficient funds or level of English being allowed to study in the UK.

"A strict approach to flouting visa rules shouldn't stop the government from committing wholeheartedly to increasing the number of international students studying here as part of the UK's growth strategy and to maintain the high standards of the UK's universities. One way to do that is to reform confusing work laws, as our main competitors have already done."

Notes to Editors

IPPR's new report 'Britain wants you! Why the UK should commit to increasing international student numbers' is available here from Thursday 28 November:'

IPPR's report 'One step forward, two steps back: evaluating the institutions of British immigration policymaking' is available here:

IPPR's report 'Student migration in the UK' is available here: