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International students deterred from studying in the UK
16 April 2014
A study by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee has found that the number of students studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in the UK has decreased significantly since 2010.
Published on 11th April, the study report notes that the number of STEM students fell by more than 10% between 2010 and 2013. The committee comments that this decrease is not solely due to the UK’s immigration rules but has also been affected by perceptions about the debates on immigration in the UK.
International students can easily find out about negative perceptions of immigration through social media such as Twitter and Facebook, where they can quickly identify the latest government rhetoric on immigration and any anti-immigration press coverage.
The committee comments that students "bring so much to the UK economy". In line with this, a report produced by Oxford Economics noted that international students at the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University made a net total contribution of £120.3 million in 2012/13 to Sheffield’s GDP alone, showing that international students provide a significant boost to local economies and the wider UK economy.
As well as their financial contributions, international students can bring new ideas to UK research. In line with this, the committee report argues that government policy on immigration could potentially damage the UK’s influence that it has due to being a centre for research and academia.
However, students are often seen as easy targets when it comes to reducing immigration figures. Whilst Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to reduce immigration, the government is also committed to attracting more international students - it proposed to increase numbers by 15-20% over a five-year period.
This clear contradiction causes confusion on the UK’s stance on immigration, causing international students to look to other countries. In the report, a spokesperson from the Society of Biology is quoted as saying: "Our members have told us that central student agencies who guide the students on the best countries in which to study are now directing students to universities elsewhere (e.g. the USA) because in their view the visa situation in the UK has become too difficult."
In contrast to the committee’s report, a government spokesperson said: "We do not accept that the UK’s immigration rules are deterring international students and there is no clear evidence in the report to support that argument. Where some courses and countries have seen falling numbers, other countries and courses are on the rise."