A West Country university head warned that the UK Government’s relentless clampdown on immigration could see the region losing out on millions of pounds from foreign students.
Sir Steve Smith, vice-chancellor of the University of Exeter, said that the growing market in international students was being jeopardised because the Government would not exempt students from net migration targets.
ONS figures released last week reveal last year’s net migration figure – the number of people moving to the UK minus the number that left – was 216,000. The Government has pledge to slash this to below 100,000 by 2015.
But Smith warned the ambitious target will damage the region’s ability to attract more international students, who pay fees of around £10,000 a year, as well as pumping as much again into the local economy.
The UK Border Agency (UKBA) revoked the Tier 4 Sponsors Licence of London Metropolitan University after an investigation found “serious systemic failure” in its monitoring systems.
Thousands of students will be forced to apply for new visas and move to new universities or face deportation.
However, London Met has announced that it will be taking legal action to prevent the revocation of its Tier 4 licence, which should give students a ’stay of execution’ from deportation whilst the appeal grinds its way through the courts.
There have been further reports that two more UK 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.
International students studying at the University of Exeter’s three campuses are worth more than £105 million to the region every year, according to research commissioned by the University of Exeter.
“International students are the country’s 7th largest export industry; they are worth just over eight billion pounds a year to the UK,” Sir Steve said.
“All the predictions are for massive increases in the number of students who want to come to the UK, and the South West could certainly take more.
“If we were producing cars and widgets the Government would be backing us like hell as an export industry, but because it is immigration, which is such a toxic subject, they won’t support it.”
He added that while his own institution only planned a modest increase of about ten per cent – 300-400 – in the number of international students it takes each year, this still represented a hefty boost to Exeter’s economy.
“We have been arguing that students should be taken out of the UK immigration figures for a long time.
“We think there is massive growth potential for tens of thousands more students to come to the UK. We don’t want to do what the US and Australia did in the early 2000s, which was to choke off interest so the students went elsewhere. This sends the message that Britain is not open for business to international students.”
Last week MP Margaret Hodge, chairman of the Commons’ Public Affairs Committee, called for international students to be considered separately from other immigrants. Mrs Hodge, reporting on the current student immigration points-based system, said it was open to abuse by migrants who had no intention of studying, and unnecessarily complicated for genuine students.
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