When Destination for Education supported the Tory Reform Group & Mainstream Reception at Conservative Party Conference this year, we made three policy asks regarding one of the government’s policy blind spots – its approach towards international students:
- the removal of students from the net migration target
- the establishment of a cross-departmental international student strategy
- a globally competitive post-study work route
Each of these policies is crucial if the UK is to restore its market share of international students in what is a highly competitive international industry; something the TRG has recognised and long campaigned to change.
At the moment, the rest of the world can hardly believe their luck. While they do all they can to attract international students, the UK gives the impression it has put up a “closed for business” sign. Australia – which has less than half the number of universities than the UK – is about to replace Britain as the second most popular destination for international students.
This is an industry which is growing at a rate of 6% per year globally, while the number of students coming to the UK has flatlined since 2012. Universities UK has just the UK has lost out on £8bn from the slowdown in growth in the market for the last six years.
Our higher education institutions are a great British success story and represent a vital UK export. But in order to restore our share of the global higher education pie, we need to implement a more attractive regime which attracts students to come here, instead of pushing them towards our competitors.
International student policy is something which should unite all wings of the Conservative Party – it is a good news story. International students have an annual net impact on the British economy of over £20bn – money which benefits towns and cities right across the country.
Soon, the Government will bring forward its Immigration White Paper. This is an opportunity for parliamentarians, members of the Tory Reform Group and members of the Conservative Party to champion an approach that will make the UK a more attractive place for prospective international students to come and study.
- Removing students from the net migration target would send an important and positive signal to the rest of the world that we want students to come and study here A great, valuable British export in higher education, and a great cultural export in future leaders of industry and society.
- A cross-departmental international student strategy – which goes a long way to explaining Australia’s recent success in the sector – is crucial in enabling different government departments to work together and track the UK’s progress, acting on growth targets.
- A globally competitive post-study work offering is crucial to attracting international students to come and study here. Following the scrapping of the scheme in 2012, the number of students from India coming to study in the UK collapsed straight away. Universities UK recently published a proposal which would allow for students to gain work experience for up to two years after graduating and which would both attract students, and help employers to fill skills gaps.
The recent Migration Advisory Committee report on international students recognised the huge benefit the UK receives from international students and now is the time to embrace the opportunities they bring and implement a student visa policy which transforms Britain’s competitiveness in the international student market.
James Pitman is spokesperson for Destination for Education