The warning that including international students in the net migration targets is damaging the £40 billion education sector and the British economy appears to be getting through to Ministers.
The Times reports that the UK government has announced that it wants to publish more detailed figures on overseas students that “disaggregate” them from totals on net migration.
Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said the Office for National Statistics (ONS) was working on ways to “better count students in immigration flows”.
However, the announcement at the Universities UK conference appears to fall short of meeting widespread calls to eclude international students from net migration figures.
UK Universities want overseas students to be removed from the statistics as currently they feel the government is using visa policy to help meet its target of cutting net migration by hundreds of thousands.
In a speech made at Keele University, Mr Willetts said the government wanted “to publish disaggregated figures so the debate can be better informed”. A hint that the government may be listening to the sector as well as a cross party group of senior MP’s who have urged Ministers to rethink their policies on net migration.
He also announced a £2 million fund for overseas students at London Metropolitan University who have been hit by the decision to revoke the institution’s visa licence.
This was “to help legitimate overseas students at London Met who face extra costs through no fault of their own”. The money will be used to help with the costs of students transferring to other universities and to make new visa applications.
Mr Willetts also said the number of high-achieving resident A-level students entering university this year was likely to be lower than was estimated, which means more bad news for univerisities already hit with a 21% drop in overseas students last year.
“The net result may be total numbers getting AAB or equivalent are closer to 80,000 than the 85,000 which was [the funding council's] best estimate,” he said.
It comes after numerous reports have indicated a number of universities, including some selective institutions from the Russell Group, could fall well short of their undergraduate intake targets because of the AAB shortfall.
Earlier, Eric Thomas, the UUK president, said in his speech to the conference that the admissions process this year was “a story of unpredicted and intended consequences”.
He also warned that the London Met crisis meant that “we appear to have arrived at a situation with overseas students in which our country invites ridicule, or at the very least astonishment”.
He added that the sector and the country had not “fulfilled our duties to [London Met international students] as human beings, never mind as students”. He said the majority of those students threatened with deportation due to the licence revocation were bona fide.
There have been further reports that two more as yet unnamed universities had their licenses to sponsor and teach overseas students temporarily suspended after the UK Border Agency discovered problems with the enforcement of visa rules.
Overseas students in the UK are complaining they are trapped in a legal limbo by visa delays which mean they do not have the right either to stay or go back home, a BBC report has confirmed.
Last month Immigration Matters reported that student visa holders claimed they have waited for up to five months without their passports.
Hundreds have signed a protest petition claiming their “basic rights” are being denied by delays in processing visas.
The UK Border Agency said applications from students would be “worked through by the end of the summer”.
The National Union of Students (NUS) says this is becoming a “serious problem” and a “complete outrage” which puts at risk the ability of UK universities to attract overseas students.
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