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UK International Education Population Immigration Politics

“From ICEF Monitor UK report calls for cohesive government policy to grow international education

Currently in the UK, two facts co-exist… uncomfortably.  On the one hand is widespread public anxiety about immigration, fuelled in part by past governmental policies that led to some abuse of the system.  On the other is the British economy’s need for talented international students who contribute revenues while studying, help in forging vital international cultural and trade links, and sometimes stay on afterward to pursue their careers and contribute their skills and knowledge to the British economy.

A new report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), Britain Wants You!, addresses this concurrence, arguing that current governmental policy is preventing a situation where immigration goals and international education goals might exist in a more complementary fashion….

… Mismatch between immigration and education

The main complaint of the IPPR report is that UK governmental policies are not cohesive when it comes to immigration and international education.

The way it stands now, the overarching governmental goal is reducing net migration – and because international students are considered migrants after 12 months of studying in the country they cannot help but suffer ill effects of the pursuit of this goal.

But the government – at least at one level – realises the damage this is doing because it has the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) promoting the growth of international education. The BIS considers a 15-20% growth in international student numbers over the next five years to be “realistic.”…..

…..The urgency of the issue is underlined in a BIS statistic: in 2011, over 75% of education export earnings came from students studying in the UK.

Recommendations for international education in the UK

The report’s authors acknowledge that in the past, there has been “sustained abuse” of the student visa system; they are not saying that all international students should be welcome. What they are arguing for is an overall “open and flexible” student visa regime that contains enough provisions to clamp down on abuse.

Mostly, the report’s recommendations encourage an environment where the importance of international education to the UK economy is reflected in governmental policy and across the sector. This would include:

  • A welcoming environment for international students with attractive work and immigration offers for them (as there increasingly are in so many other competitive study abroad destinations);
  • Education providers fully complying with rules and regulations and helping their students to integrate into and contribute to local communities;
  • Government not instituting “unsettling” and destabilising visa regime changes;
  • Greater respect for non-university sectors such as further education and English language schools, “both in their own right and as crucial feeders into higher education”;
  • The Home Office and the education sector working together to achieve a balance between clamping down on visa abuse and permitting the “freedom and flexibility to flourish in the global market.”

As for specific recommendations, most fundamentally, the report urges the government to abandon its net migration targets. In addition, it calls for:

  • An investment in collecting better longitudinal data on students’ pathways through the immigration system;
  • Narrower and more targeted screening of prospective international students, and greater support for education institutions that are licensed to sponsor them;
  • A modest levy on international students for NHS (health) coverage so long as the cost of this is offset by other advantages (such as work rights);
  • Independent review of the burgeoning student visitor visa route to monitor unusual patterns.

What is at stake?

The report’s authors cite several trends that underline the problems with the current governmental approach to international students and the importance of the report’s recommendations. It says:

  • Data now indicates that international student entrants to higher education for the 2012/13 academic year were broadly flat, reversing a trend of growth.
  • The number of visas issued to foreign students to attend courses in the further education sector fell by 46% in the year to December 2012, and the income that further education colleges received from Tier 4 students’ tuition fees is estimated to have decreased by £11 million between 2010/11 and 2011/12.
  • In 2011, 40% of all international students in higher education came into university through pathway programmes with other providers.
  • The UK’s post-study work offer is weaker than many of its major competitor countries, such as Canada or New Zealand.

The UK government’s dilemma

As much as the report argues that the government’s approach to international education is dangerous to the goals it purports to want for the sector, it also recognises the tough political environment in which the government finds itself.

An August 2013 the Economist/Ipsos MORI Issues Index found that “race relations/immigration” came second only to the economy (a longstanding front running issue) as a priority issue for the British public. Nearly 4 in 10 (38%) respondents mentioned race relations/immigration, an increase of 4 percentage points since the previous year’s Issues Index, and “the highest level of concern about ‘race relations/immigration’ since May 2010, the month in which the Coalition government came to power.”

The government has reacted to the public’s concern in large sweeping measures such as the net migration goal, to which business leaders and the education sector have protested vehemently. ……

The prime minister’s office did not agree with the argument put forth by the five committees.

Piecemeal improvements have marked the course. So far, the government has refused to consider to budge on its net migration targets, reacting instead to concerns about the health of the international education sector via a steady stream of statements and visa policy amendments.

It will be interesting to see how the government will receive the report’s stance that such measures are not sufficient to ensure the growth of the international education sector.

The role of agents in furthering the growth of international education in the UK….”


1.  International education and related issues have been viewed through a xenophobic lens of blaming international students, agents etc. This is ignoring basic fact that like in Australia the policy, system, implementation, delivery and evaluation had been mismanaged by government, their response (the recent Labor Government) was to bring in restrictions and ‘dog whistle’ with the mainstream media (medium?).

2.  Concurrently, in the anglo world, ‘overpopulation’ ‘white nativist’ movement has been very active in demonising international students in the media and political lobbying whether that be the John Tanton movement in the USA (opposing immigration reform), Sustainable Population Australia opposing population growth or Dr. Bob Birrell’s CPUR at Monash university (opposing all things non European), and in the UK Population Matters, BNP and UKIP.

The common thread is that all have direct or indirect links with ‘white nationalist’ John Tanton in the USA….. and each other.

3.  Government, media and over population activists have been inflating and amplifying population and immigration rates by conflating permanent immigration with temporary EU and non EEA, the latter including most fee paying international students.  By using the time frame of now, they miss the underlying population  trends into the medium long term…..

4.  Like Australia, while institutions are ‘managing agents’, who manages the institutions (and state agencies) responsible for marketing, recruitment (targets), student welfare, quality etc.?

This comes under the ESOS Act in Australia where they still speak of ‘managing marketing materials’ that need to be distributed (preferably at an offshore event) and also propensity for agent contracts including recruitment targets that can lead to aggressive selling of education, as advised by the Australian trade office Austrade in the past……

5.  Most importantly, it’s international students who come out last, yet they are the most important marketing resource not just for the institution, but also as an ‘ambassador’ for the host nation when they tell their friends, family etc.

AIEC Australian International Education Centre on British International Education.

2 Responses to “UK International Education Population Immigration Politics”

  1. […] UK International Education Population Immigration Politics. […]

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