Including students in migration targets deemed “ludicrous”
05 July 2015
Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, vice-chancellor of Cambridge University, has labelled the current system of including students in UK migration targets “ludicrous” and “short-term and short-sighted”.
While there is no specific cap on the number of overseas students, they are included in net migration targets. The Tories’ original intention was to reduce net migration to the “tens of thousands”, but the total number of international students alone in the UK is more than 435,000. These students not only contribute to research in the UK but also to the regional economies in their places of study.
Speaking at the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, Sir Borysiewicz argued that this inclusion creates a negative perception about overseas students, making them feel unwelcome. He added that the UK could make potential economic gains by recruiting more overseas students but that this potential was being “sacrificed at the altar of political expediency”.
Prominent academics and industry experts have long claimed that recruiting the best global talent gives UK universities a competitive edge, allowing them to conduct world-leading research. For example, approximately 60% of postdoctoral researchers at Cambridge are from overseas.
Regarding the “highly mobile and ambitious” international students, Sir Borysiewicz said: “if we make it difficult or unattractive for them to work with us, they will move elsewhere”. Commenting more broadly on immigration, he said that migrants “revitalised economies” and brought innovation - but these key benefits are being omitted from debates around immigration.
Chief Executive of Universities UK Nicola Dandridge said: “International students should be removed from the government’s net migration target. It is clear that international students are not long-term migrants. They come to the UK, study for a period, and then the overwhelming majority go home after their studies.
“While international students in the UK continue to be caught up in efforts to bear down on immigration, it will feed the perception internationally that the UK is closed for business and does not welcome students,” she said.
The Higher Education Policy Institute has called on the government to conduct a robust analysis of the economic costs and benefits of recruiting more overseas students to the UK.