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All Party Parliamentary Group says UK should set ambitious target to increase international student numbers


Report finds increasingly restrictive policies and procedures has led to decline in UK's share of students

Date of Publication:
07 November 2018

All Party Parliamentary Group says UK should set ambitious target to increase international student numbers

07 November 2018

A new report published yesterday by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for International Students says the UK government should set an ambitious target to increase international student recruitment.

The APPG's 48-page report is here and is the result of a two-month inquiry into how the UK can build a sustainable future for international students.

Higher education is the UK's fifth largest services sector and a recent report found that the net economic benefit to the UK of both EU and non-EU higher education students who started in 2015/16 was £20.3 billion.

While the UK is still the second most popular destination for international study behind the USA, the APPG says in its report that the UK's position is slipping and international student numbers have flatlined while other nations are developing strategies to increase numbers.

The report states: "When the UK's international student market share is compared with that of its competitors, the UK has been in decline since 2011. International student numbers in further and private education have decreased drastically in the UK since 2011. The reasons for this are multifaceted and can be attributed to: repeated changes to and complexities of the Tier 4 student visa regime; the 2012 closure of the post-study work scheme; the introduction of national strategies and targets for increasing the number of international students in competitors nations, including attractive post-study work offerings; and the perception of the UK as a less welcoming study destination due to Government rhetoric, particularly regarding a 'hostile environment' for migrants and in the wake of the EU Referendum."

The APPG for International Students says what is needed is a growth mindset in relation to international students and a strategy to support this.

"Having heard all the evidence and considering opportunities and challenges we are recommending that the Government sets a target to grow the number of international students and that this is supported by a cross-departmental strategy. We believe the various government departments and the sector should come together to ensure this is done within the next six months. The overall aim of the target and the supporting strategy should be to grasp the opportunities which now present themselves and show the world that the UK is not just open for business but determined to lead the world in this hugely important enterprise," the report states.

The report makes 12 recommendations in total, including that the Government should offer a clearly labelled and attractive post-study work visa which allows up to two years of work experience in the UK.

Paul Blomfield MP, co-chair of the APPG, said: "Increasingly restrictive policies and procedures over the last eight years have discouraged many international students from applying to the UK."

"We need to press the reset button, establish an ambitious strategy to increase recruitment, put new policies in place, and send out a clear message that international students are welcome in the UK."

Lord Bilimoria, co-chair of the APPG and the president of the UK Council for International Student Affairs, wrote in an opinion piece in the Guardian: "As a first step, the government must commit to removing students from net migration figures. There must also be attractive post-study work visas available – such as those I helped to introduce through parliament a decade ago and that the coalition government scrapped in 2012 – and we must maintain an open relationship with the European Union that allows for free movement of students and researchers."

Meanwhile, as an interesting aside, a recent study by the National Foundation for American Policy found that nearly a quarter of US billion-dollar startup companies had a founder who first came to the US as an international student.

One of those students, the co-founder of the billion-dollar company Cloudflare, told the National Foundation for American Policy: "The best thing the U.S. government has done on immigration is Optional Practical Training (OPT) to allow international students a chance to stay and work for a time after graduation."