Indian students ‘being put off UK’
Posted on October 14, 2014
The UK is facing an “uphill struggle” to convince Indian students that they are welcome to come and study here, Vince Cable has warned.
The Business Secretary said it was undoubtedly the case that young people from India had been put off coming to the UK by the “rather ugly noises off in the political world” around migration policy.
Speaking ahead of a trip to India, Mr Cable said he would be making the case during his week-long visit that overseas students are very welcome to come to the UK.
“The area that I’m going to give priority to is trying to rebuild positive feeling and confidence around Indian students coming to Britain,” he said.
“They have undoubtedly been put off by the rather ugly noises off in the political world, given the impression they’re not welcome.”
Figures published by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) in April showed that since 2010/11, the number of Indian postgraduate students coming to the UK has fallen by 51%, with those from Pakistan down 49%. In the same period, the number of postgraduates coming from China rose by around 44%.
“There’s a bit of an uphill struggle against Indian opinion, but it’s an important task for the health of our universities that we make that case,” Mr Cable said.
The Government’s moves to tighten up the visa system and shut down ”bogus” colleges have previously been blamed in some quarters for putting off overseas students from coming to Britain to study.
Ministers have repeatedly insisted that there is no limit on international students coming to the UK.
The line which has often come out of parts of government is that there has been “massive abuse” of the system by overseas students, the Lib Dem minister said, agreeing that he was referring to the Home Office.
Mr Cable said that there had been abuse, and it needed to be dealt with, but added that the British public, and the public overseas, had often been sold the impression that it was widespread.
Referring to the Tories’ stance on migration policy, Mr Cable said: “It’s part of this wider argument about overseas students where, as you know, they’re included in the immigration statistics, even though they’re not immigrants.
“Clearly, one side of the coalition is pursuing a reduction in the net migration figure, from their point of view if they can get student numbers down it helps them meet their target, whereas actually these students are not immigrants and they are making a positive contribution to the economy.
“We’ve had this tension from the beginning of the Government and I think we’ve actually come out at a fairly sensible place in terms of the practicalities but nonetheless the rhetoric keeps being stirred up again and it isn’t helpful.”
International students are worth around £3 billion a year to UK universities, according to the Business Department, and bring skills that are vital to the British economy.
Mr Cable is set to announce two new initiatives during his visit, including 396 new scholarships for Indian students at 57 UK universities to study undergraduate and postgraduate courses in subjects such as engineering and a £33 million investment in projects that will boost the UK’s business relationship with India.
Indian graduates of UK institutions that have made a “significant impact” upon their return to their home country are also to be offered the chance of an expenses-paid study trip to the UK, linked to their profession, through the Education UK Alumni Awards.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “Our reforms to the student visa system have favoured the UK’s excellent universities, with the latest figures showing that sponsored student visa applications for universities have increased by 5% and applications for the Russell Group are up 8% for the year ending June 2014.
“But this government will always take decisive action to prevent people from cheating their way into Britain. That is why we have already cut abuse across the board, including closing more than 750 bogus colleges, making the application process more rigorous and imposing more rules to improve course quality.
“Our policies are designed to build an immigration system that is fair to British citizens and legitimate migrants and tough on those who abuse the system or flout the law.
“People who stay for more than a year, like students, will continue to be counted in net migration figures as migrants – just as they are by the ONS, the UN and all of our international competitors.”
In a sign of coalition divisions on immigration, Tory Immigration and Security Minister James Brokenshire said: “I am sorry that the Business Secretary continues to paint a false picture about the Government’s immigration policy and to talk down the excellent UK student visa offer in an important international market for the education sector.
“We continue to welcome the brightest and the best to study at our world-class universities and there is no limit on the number of international students who can come here.
“Our focus remains on a system which bears down on abuse and controls immigration at sustainable levels whilst continuing to attract skilled and talented people to the UK to support our long-term economic plan.”
10 October 2014