Students stay in official net migration figures

The government’s response to the Business Innovation and Skills select committee report on overseas students and migration is a “disappointment”, says the Association of Colleges.

In the initial report, Overseas Students and Net Migration, which was published last September, the committee recommended that overseas students should not be counted in the overall figures for immigration, a proposal that the government has now rejected.

Although David Cameron made it clear on his recent trip to India that there would be no cap on the number of foreign students, the coalition government has pledged to cut the net migration figure.

The association’s international director, John Mountford, said: “It is something of a disappointment that the government has reasserted its aim to continue to count students within net migration.

“They are here to learn, not earn, and should be treated appropriately.”

He said that removing students from the overall figure would be a better reflection of why they had come to the UK; those choosing to stay would have to go through a further application process.

According to parliamentary convention, government departments should respond to select committee reports within two months, but the government took four months to publish its response to the initial report.

The BIS select committee replied to the government’s response within three days with ‘Too Little Too Late’, a report that urged the government to reconsider its position.

It concluded: “The government’s response was late, woefully short on detail and fails to take account of recent developments. It seeks to underplay the urgency of the problem and thus excuse the failure to act decisively to address this serious matter. The government should listen, think again and change course.”

The government’s response coincided with the release of figures by the Office of National Statistics showing that the number of student visas issued by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) fell 20 per cent in 2012 compared with 2011.

In the same period the number of visas issued for FE study fell 62 per cent to 31,587, while visas issued for HE rose 3 per cent.

Mr Mountford echoed concerns raised in the Overseas Students and Net Migration report that removing students from net migration was necessary to demonstrate clearly that the UK welcomed overseas students.

He said: “People are refused visas because of the criteria set by the UKBA, so including them in net migration or not won’t, on a nuts and bolts level, affect that. But, on the other hand, if we are giving  the impression that Britain is difficult to get into, then we will lose out on learners.”

He acknowledged that the fall in both overall student visa numbers and those issued for the FE sector was partly connected to the government’s clampdown on private colleges offering bogus qualifications, but warned this could have a negative impact on the sector.

“I think there’s a default setting that there’s something suspicious about the FE sector. It’s not justifiable because we do have robust
application monitoring systems in our colleges. It would be helpful if the UKBA could reflect that.”