We recently read with interest, but without much surprise, the findings of a YouGov poll commissioned by Universities UK into public perceptions of foreign students in the UK and how much they contribute toward our economy.
The poll found 63% of people put the annual income received from overseas students at less than £5.3 billion. A quarter of people put the value at below £500 million, and more than a third of the 2,766 respondents believed international students were taking places allocated for home (UK and EU) students. Furthermore, 71% of those asked believed international students stayed in the country long after they graduated.
So what are the real facts? Well, the Government’s official estimate for income generated from foreign (non-EU) students in 2010 was £5.3 billion. International students do not take places that are allocated for home students. And only 3% of overseas students settled permanently in the UK five years after graduation.
As we’ve known for some time, the public’s perception of foreign students is too often swayed by biased media stories, which suggest that they deprive young people in the UK of places at universities, and fail to mention the huge amount of revenue that international students bring to our country.
Eric Thomas, the President of Universities UK said in response to the poll ‘“These findings make for worrying reading.
“I think it is a reflection of the extent of the misunderstanding about the positive contribution international students make to regional and national economies, and to society more widely.
“Universities are unequivocal in their support for efforts by the government to tackle any abuse of the student visa system.
“But this must not be allowed to obscure the reality of the positive contribution international students make to the UK.
“The government’s approach to student visas must be proportionate and workable, and should not be imposed at the expense of our international reputation and our economic growth.”
Over the last year the UK Border Agency has introduced drastic reforms of the Tier 4 Student visa system which allows non-EU nationals to come and study in the UK. Many private colleges have lost their Sponsor Licences (over 470 in 2011) and consequently foreign students have found themselves out of pocket when they paid for a course which was subsequently cancelled or the college itself closed. Clearly, it is important to prevent abuses of the immigration system, and colleges which were offering an easy route into the UK rather than an education, cannot be allowed to do so.
However, legitimate colleges and universities stand to suffer too due to higher licence fees imposed on them and the stricter requirements for migrants wishing to study here. There are massive restrictions imposed on foreign students’ ability to work and support themselves whilst studying here, and the course fees for overseas candidates are unfairly high. Further changes are coming into force next month, with the closure of the popular Post Study Work category meaning that foreign graduates will be forced to return home if they do not have an offer of employment by the time their course is completed.
It is feared that the UK’s attitude to immigration will cause people to avoid studying in the UK and our economy will lose out on valuable income which is vital in light of the current financial crisis. Cutting down on student immigration appears to be an easy way for the Government to prove it is delivering on its promises to reduce net migration to the UK. But through its short sightedness, we risk excluding those who we should be welcoming.