So it seems according to the report by the Migration Advisory Committee that if the Government is to achieve its dogma driven aim of reducing immigration to tens of thousands rather than hundreds of thousands, it is going to have to cut the current annual flow of 163,000 overseas students from outside Europe by 87,000.
According to the MAC’s report, student visas make up the largest number of non-visitor, out-of-country entry clearance visas issued. In 2009 for example 273,000 student visas were issued to main applicants (and 30,000 to student dependants.) This accounts for 64% of all entry clearance visas.
Large numbers of students – no quirk of fate
The UK’s large student numbers are no quirk of fate. They are the result of deliberate and concerted policy under the previous Labour government. Blair to his credit was astute enough to recognise the potential benefits of expanding the UK’s share of the international FE and HE student market. His two ‘Prime Ministerial Initiatives’ were geared at doing just that.
Changes to the immigration scheme enabling for example switching into employer led/supply based employment categories, switching from other routes into student routes, the introduction of automatic entitlements to work during term time, and the widening of possibilities to remain in the UK after studies all ultimately came out of the above process.
Politics v economics again
As James Pitman, the managing director of Study Group points out in the Financial Times today, any reduction in student numbers would be ‘disastrous for the UK’s fragile economy’ given that education and training exports are worth almost 40 Billion – representing the second biggest contributor to the UK’s net balance of payments behind financial Services.
A number of universities have already expressed real concerns about the impact of the work based cap. Professor Steve Smith, president of vice-chancellors’ umbrella group, Universities UK, and vice-chancellor of Exeter University recently noted in the Guardian that the cap
..could be a serious blow to the UK market in the face of huge competition from other countries that are investing in higher education… with the investment that competitor countries such as the US and China are putting into universities makes them more likely to poach staff at British universities. All of which amounts to a serious worry.’
With foreign students also accounting for as much as 30% of the revenue of some universities, and public expenditure cuts of 40 % to the higher education budget and 25 % to the further education budget, can the UK really afford to go down this road?