International Students or Immigrants or Race Politics?
by Bethan Norris, Senior Editor
It is easy to be scathing of governments who are happy to take tuition fees and living costs from hard working foreign students but when it comes to safeguarding political futures are only too keen to portray them as migrants who need to be kept out of the country. In this respect, the UK government is being very transparent in its use of net migration statistics as a way of gaining support from some members of the UK public concerned about high immigration into the country.
The UK government has long been criticised for including student visa holders in net migration figures and through recent student visa rule changes appears to be using these valuable visitors to the country as a quick way to reduce net migration. Thanks to a decrease of 26 per cent in the number of student visas issued in the 12 months up to September 2012 (see page 8), the net migration figures have correspondingly decreased this year – an apparent success story for a government pledge to reduce immigration to the ‘tens of thousands’ by 2015. But is this a rather short-sighted way for the government to act, particularly when so many UK universities rely on international student fees to financially support themselves?
London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, has recently joined the debate by highlighting the benefits of attracting the world’s brightest students to study in the city and criticised the inclusion of student visa holders in net migration statistics (see page 8). The fact that this government tactic to reduce net migration by simply reducing student visa holders has become so obvious provides hope that it will soon be forced to change the way it uses the migration figures in the future.
While it has become harder to get a student visa to study in the UK for some nationalities in recent years, it is still seen as an attractive study destination for many. A recent survey of education and agencies by the Association of Language Travel Organisations (Alto) revealed that the UK was perceived as being a ‘very attractive’ place to study for 64 per cent of respondents (see page 7). The USA was in top place with 73 per cent, while Canada had increased its standing by 15 percentage points since 2008 to make it joint second with the UK. It is interesting that Canada is the only country to have increased its reputation so much in the last four years and points to a sea change in student opinion that could see them looking away from the UK and USA in the future to countries with more welcoming visa policies.”