Tory obsession with immigration numbers is damaging universities and the economy

Jonathan Portes has it right in The Guardian writing about Britain’s ability to attract overseas students and the money they bring with them:

What are the prospects for this thriving export sector? They should be excellent. We speak English; London is a global hub; and we have the only university sector in the world that compares to the US. And recent rapid growth in numbers has come especially from Chinese and Indian students: precisely the markets we should be looking to expand in.

But perversely, in pursuit of its arbitrary target to reduce net migration, the Home Office seems to be doing its best to scupper this success story. The latest immigration figures showed a fall of 70,000 in the number of student visas issued in the year to September. Now, it’s clear that there has been some abuse of the student visa system, and the progressive tightening up over the last five years or so was necessary. But there was no evidence of abuse on that scale.

More genuine overseas students brings much needed extra money to the economy generally and to the university sector in particular.

They also add to the quality of the education that British students receive, not only through the extra resources they put into the institutions that teach them both but also through the extra range of interests, knowledge and backgrounds they bring to classes. I’ve seen this first hand with the classes I’ve contributed to at City University and the London School of Economics. When talking about politics or journalism, having people with experiences of lots of different systems makes for a better education for everyone in the room.

That’s why in 2011 the Liberal Democrats blocked plans for a cap on foreign student numbers.

As Jonathan Portes concludes:

It is simply not credible for the prime minister to claim that the UK is “open for business” and for the chancellor to say that he is prepared to take the “difficult decisions” to boost growth, while at the same time making a reduction in the number of foreign students coming here a key objective of immigration policy. Growth and jobs should come first.

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