UK will miss education export targets without change to Immigration Bill
The UK will miss its new international education export targets unless the Government accepts changes to the Immigration Bill tabled on Friday by former Universities minister Jo Johnson and All-Party International Students Group Co-Chair Paul Blomfield MP.
The MPs said that their new clause, which has strong support in Parliament, including from nine select committee chairs, would help reverse the sharp decline in the UK’s share of international students and increase chances that the next generation of world leaders study in the UK.
The UK’s share of the valuable international student market is in freefall because of restrictions designed to help meet the tens of thousands net migration target, while the US recently overtook the UK as the country educating the most world leaders.
Mr Johnson said: “We have no chance of meeting education export targets unless we adopt a smarter approach to students. If we are serious about Global Britain, we must recognise that international students bring huge benefits to our universities, our local economies and our soft power.”
He added: “The difference students make to long-term net migration is small. The difference our new clause will make to our universities, to local economies and to Britain’s global reach will be highly significant. As we re-shape our immigration policy for the future, we must not miss this opportunity.”
The UK’s market share in international student education has fallen from 12 per cent in 2010 to 8 per cent in 2016, according to OECD figures, with flows of students from countries such as India sharply down on levels seen a decade ago.
The Government’s international education strategy, launched last month by the Education and Trade Departments, was “guaranteed to fail unless we urgently adopt cross-government policies to match”, Mr Johnson said.
The international education strategy set a new target of £35bn in education exports by 2030. The UK is on track to miss the old target, set in 2013, of £30bn in education exports by 2020 by about £7bn.
The new clause will ensure that overseas students cannot be capped in order to comply with the net migration target. It will require any Government introducing a quota to secure Parliamentary approval, locking down existing policy commitments in primary legislation for the first time.
The proposed new clause also restores the post-study work period to 2 years, which will align the UK more closely with what competitor countries are offering and with what the UK itself offered prior to 2012.
Paul Blomfield MP said: “We need a fresh approach to post-study work, which has been severely restricted since 2012 on the back of shoddy and flawed evidence.”
He added: “Students value post-study work highly and will invest their time, money and human capital elsewhere if it is not available, which is why our competitors have put in place sensible post-study work regimes. Employers too welcome the contribution of these talented graduates.”
The US, Canada and New Zealand offer international graduates the opportunity to work for up to three years after graduation, and Australia for up to four years.
Mr Blomfield said: “Slashed in 2012 to just 4 months, from two years, the UK’s post-study work offer is simply not competitive. While International Education Strategy will increase this to 6 months, that’s not nearly enough to make the difference we need.”
The new clause has the backing of a broad range of Conservative MPs, including Education Select Committee chair Robert Halfon, Foreign Affairs Select Committee chair Tom Tugendhat, former universities minister Sam Gyimah, former Education secretaries Nicky Morgan and Justine Greening, former Brexit secretary David Davis, & former DfID secretaries Andrew Mitchell and Priti Patel.
It also has extensive cross-party support, with the DUP Education Spokesperson Paul Girvan MP and International Trade Spokesperson Emma Little-Pengelly among the signatories.
Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner and Shadow Home Secretary are among Labour backers, while Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson Layla Moran and SNP Education Spokesperson Carol Monaghan are also signatories.
Nine select committee chairs have already signed the new clause. In addition to Morgan (Treasury), Tugendhat and Halfon, other select committee chairs backing the new clause include Yvette Cooper, (Home Affairs), Rachel Reeves (Business), Norman Lamb (Science and Technology), Meg Hillier (Public Accounts), Hillary Benn (Brexit) and Angus Brendan MacNeil (International Trade).
Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK said: “International students want to come and study in the UK because of the high quality education our universities offer.
It’s now time to change policy to send a more welcoming message by extending the opportunities for graduates to work in the UK to at least two years.
International students make a very positive contribution to the UK, culturally, economically and by enriching the educational environment in our universities for all students.”
The Immigration and Social Security Co-Ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill completed its Committee stage in the House of Commons on March 5th and is due to return to the House for its Report stage and Third Reading, for which no date has been announced.
Although the narrow scope of this Bill means that amendments relating to migration beyond EEA and Swiss nationals will be considered out of scope, under the proposed future immigration system there will be no distinction between EEA and non-EEA migration and all non-UK students (EEA and non-EEA alike) will therefore benefit from the provisions of this new clause.