Your March 2017 update from Dominic Scott: Lords speak up for international students

From our Chief Executive
16 March 2017
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Dear member

House of Lords victory on international students

I am writing only briefly and largely just on one subject this month with the hugely encouraging news that there was this week a cracking debate in the House of Lords when speaker after speaker after speaker rose in support of a motion (technically an amendment) in support of international students and for those who are interested, the full text is here.

The context was, in fact, the Higher Education and Research Bill but – in addition to another amendment (147) relating to Syrians and others without full refugee status which we had been supporting - Lord Hannay tabled his amendment which was essentially designed to, once and for all, remove international students from the net migration policy.

He was supported by over twenty Lords with our President Lord Bilimoria speaking extensively and persuasively about the value of international students, the global competition, the stagnation in UK recruitment, the impact of current Home Office policies, the significant downturn in students from India, soft power factors, the Brexit challenge and, of course, how evidence shows that very few of the UK public see international students as any sort of ‘migrant’. 

He prominently acknowledged the fact that he was speaking as President of UKCISA and indeed quoted various of our statements in his speech and we are again extremely grateful for his support (and if you want to hear him speak in person of course please do plan to come to our annual conference when he will be speaking on day one).

The amendment had actually been tabled jointly with, amongst others, Lord Patten of Barnes (Chancellor of the University of Oxford) – who sadly could not be present due to ill health – but numbers of others and especially those with university connections rose to speak together with other very influential figures including Lord Blunkett (of course former Home Secretary) and Lord O-Donnell (former Cabinet Secretary).

In fact the only person who spoke against the motion was Lord Green (of Migration Watch) though he seemed a completely isolated voice.

The government spokesman, Viscount Younger of Leckie, responded at the end of the debate in, if I may say so, quite a measured but somewhat technical way, repeated various ‘mantras’ from the past and ended by asking Lord Hannay to withdraw the amendment which Lord Hannay declined to do.  It went therefore to a vote and the amendment (in support of various changes to policy on international students) was carried/agreed by 313 votes in favour and 219 against.

The Bill now goes back to the House of Commons with this amendment included. It may or may not survive (amongst what may be some horse-trading on various aspects) but whatever the result, the debate and the vote will be a major moral victory and we are all extremely grateful to Lord Hannay and indeed our President for raising these issues so prominently and so persuasively.

You may still be able to find it on Parliament TV but either there or on paper, it is well worth studying.

Economic impact of international students

The debate came of course on the back of the launch which I attended at the start of last week of UUK’s latest report on the economic value of international students and what I thought was perhaps of most significance here was not just the total figures but the breakdown of income earned and jobs created by English region (apparently more data on elsewhere in due course) and then not just the direct earnings but full impact on the economy (‘gross output’) now estimated at £25.8 billion!

International postgraduate numbers – analysis from HEFCE

The other report (or in fact a blog) well worth reading is the recent piece from HEFCE analysing non-EU postgraduate recruitment over the last decade.  Their analysis shows that non-EU students now constitute 60% of all full-time taught masters students (a figure which has not changed significantly in recent years) but that the percentage of students from China has increased in recent years from 12% to 22% with the percentage from all other non-EU countries declining from 43% to 34%.

It is obviously great to know that so many Chinese students wish to come and study in the UK – and they are more than welcome here – but at the same time and as the blog suggests, this over-reliance on just one nationality is a major risk and continuing concern.

They quote British Council as suggesting that institutions should widen their recruitment and look much more carefully at countries such as Pakistan, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam – but sadly that just brings us back to the first item (Home Office policy) and how easy or how challenging it is for many students from those countries to obtain visas.

UKCISA's new online manual

We may not be able to crack that one (at least in the short-term) but I can’t not mention this month our new online manual with all its new features which will hopefully hugely assist all in finding and advising on all the detailed rules and regulations surrounding Immigration, Fees Status and Student Support.

We launched this right at the end of last month (hope you all got postcards in advance) and I am told in the first ten days, there were over 700 log-ins, by nearly 500 unique users from 211 institutions so it appears that this is reaching effectively a really wide constituency – and one kind soul even seemed moved to tweet that ‘new manual is a work of genius’ (give this person a cheque!).

International students welcome here

However let’s end on (another) positive note as I see that OBHE/I-Graduate have released recently the results of an extensive poll in which students (both EU and non-EU) were asked, in the period after the EU referendum, whether they felt welcomed by their local communities and an average of nearly 94% satisfyingly, said that they did.

The full report is here and you can see which nationalities felt most or least welcome.  But despite all the heated debate and the pressure on migration policy and Brexit fears,  it is reassuring (and probably not that surprising to many of you who work closely with them) to hear that the vast majority of international students in the UK still feel it is a great place to live and study!

Best wishes


Dominic Scott, Dominic Scott, Chief Executive, UKCISA

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