British universities urged the government to frame a new immigration policy to encourage international students to choose the UK, in a bid to reverse a “worrying decline” in the number of such immigrants in recent times.
Universities UK, the representative body for higher-education institutions, expressed concerns this week over a “worrying decline” in the number of international students coming to Britain due to a perception of being unwelcome, The Statesman quoted media reports as saying.
It urged the British government to drop international students from its annual target of immigration cuts.
“While the UK government continues to count international students as long-term migrants in its target to reduce migration, there is a continued pressure to reduce their numbers, adding to the perception that they are not welcome here,” said Dame Julia Goodfellow, President of Universities UK and Vice-chancellor of the University of Kent.
“If the UK wants to remain a top destination for international students, we need a new immigration policy that encourages them to choose the UK,” she said.
Referring to the realities of Brexit, she said: “As the UK prepares to exit the EU, it is more important than ever that we project a welcoming message to talented people from across the world.”
The most recent figures on international students in the UK showed a worrying decline in the number of new international enrolments over recent years, Goodfellow said.
“At the same time, competitor countries such as the USA and Australia have seen increases. Both countries open their arms to international students and classify them as being non-permanent or temporary residents in their immigration systems.”
Her comments followed a new ComRes poll commissioned by Universities UK which found that nearly 73 per cent of the British public were in favour of international students coming to study in the UK.
The poll reveals that most members of the British public do not view international students as immigrants to the UK.
The results show only 26 per cent of the British public think of international students as immigrants when thinking about government immigration policy.
The public poll of over 4,000 adults conducted last month also found that 75 per cent of the British public agreed that international students should be able to work in the UK for a fixed period of time after they have graduated.
Universities UK and other groups have been lobbying the government to ease its immigration policy towards students over the years.
“We should immediately re-introduce the two-year post- study work visa, which I fought hard to introduce before its withdrawal in 2012, to allow foreign students to implement their much needed skills here and help boost our economy,” said Lord Bilimoria, a leading Indian-origin entrepreneur and Cobra Beer founder, who himself came to the UK as a student.