Falling student numbers ‘harmful’ to UK economy

The UK’s Business Secretary, Vince Cable, has labelled any gloating over falling migration numbers where overseas students are concerned to be ‘absurd’.

Speaking at a Global University Summit in London, Cable said that it was wrong to include overseas students as part of immigration statistics as doing so makes potential students feel unwanted and may turn them off wanting to study in the UK – something he said would have a hugely detrimental impact on the UK’s economy.

Student Computer Library

Student Computer Library

The Secretary said international students were “good for the country, good for universities” before adding that “one of the problems we have stems from a statistical anomaly in that the United Nations, in its wisdom, has classified overseas students as immigrants, which they are not.”

He continued: “All the evidence suggests the British public do not see them as immigrants, but nonetheless they have got caught up in this torrid and emotional debate in the UK.”

The latest overseas student figures, released earlier this month, reveal that 190,000 foreign students arrived to study in the UK in the year to September 2012, a fall of 56,000 on the previous year. The UK’s coalition government has pledged to cut immigration by tens of thousands each year, but Cable yesterday reiterated the fact that overseas students are still warmly welcomed in the UK.

Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, has long been a supporter of international students coming to study in the UK, and he once again threw his support behind increased international student arrivals yesterday.

“I looked at the recent figures for foreign students coming to this country and I did not regard what seemed to me to be a reduction in those numbers as necessarily a positive economic indicator,” he said. “I think we need to push higher education as a great, great international export and we need to be even more open in our dealings with other [higher education] institutions around the world.”

Last year, the Mayor criticised new rules which prevent foreign students from staying in the UK after graduating unless they get a £20,000 job.