We must do more to welcome International Students

Obviously the Brexit Bill is the one that’s getting all the attention at the moment, but another Bill currently making its way through Parliament is the Higher Education and Research Bill. Last night the Lords voted on an amendment to that Bill that, if accepted by the Government, would be a great benefit to our country and would preserve our long history and clear leadership in offering a first class education and warm welcome to international students. The amendment was tabled by diplomat Lord Hannay and would ensure that international students are not treated as migrants. I believe this is essential to reassure any potential foreign students that they are welcome and to reverse the worrying decline of recent years; figures for non-EU students are down by between 2% and 8% and the number of students from India is down by a half. The Prime Minister of India, Mr Modi, said of the UK; “you want our trade, you don’t want our children”. If that is the impression being received in India and other nations around the world, how can we possibly expect to attract the brightest and the best to come to study in the United Kingdom? That is what we need and want. Our doors and our arms should be wide open to the brightest and the best to come to study here because there is no downside to that. This is not an argument about migration, or about government targets to net migration – that is a conversation for another day – and in any case changing the way students are classified will have little effect on the Government’s ability to control medium to long-term net migration. This is about recognizing and promoting the significant benefits international students contribute to the UK in terms of education, soft power and cold hard cash. Many universities are able to subsidize their outstanding facilities through the income received by international student fees, but, I believe, the benefit to our educational establishments extends beyond the financial to the whole character, quality and calibre of the university. The soft power argument is perhaps most strikingly made by the fact that 55 current heads of state benefitted from an education in the UK, the value of these interactions and relationships, again, cannot be measured in financial terms but is surely significant. Finally, looking at what can be measured, a report from the University of Birmingham found that just eight additional international undergraduate students would add £1m to the economy. At a time of uncertainty in what precisely our global future will look like this is a powerful message I hope the Govt will be prepared to send.

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