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Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): I want to thank the Minister for the spirit in which he introduced the debate, which has encouraged some open and honest contributions. I also want to thank my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) for his contribution, which gave 19 tangible examples in relation to the amendments. I want to speak briefly about amendments Nos. 3, 4, 5 and 6.

Certainly, the holding of British nationality is a privilege that must not be underestimated. British citizenship and educational qualifications are much sought-after commodities across the globe. We have a proud history and heritage, and a successful and prosperous economy that has been built up over hundreds of years, alongside our educational institutions. Our heritage is on display across the nation, not only in historic buildings and infrastructure but in the education institutions that we all know and that many of us have enjoyed. We also have a vibrant democracy.

With the robust and extensive infrastructure that we have built up over generations—sewers, rail networks, power stations, airports and roads—as well as our vast array of substantial historic buildings and institutions of state, and our excellent universities and higher education establishments, it is no wonder that people from across the world, of all nationalities, wish to join us for a short or sometimes longer period to study and learn. We have a great history of welcoming not only those genuinely fleeing terror but those who seek to learn at our educational establishments.

We want to encourage overseas students to pay for studying at our institutions. International students derive many benefits from studying in Britain. It provides not only an excellent education by world standards, but an opportunity to learn about our way of life, culture and customs. That builds a reservoir of good will among those students for their future relationships with the United Kingdom.

Without the amendments, and by removing the right of appeal for certain classes of students, we shall build a reservoir not of good will but of ill will. Someone who comes here to study, of which we have heard many examples, pays fees that help our economy and, in a way, subsidises the education of British citizens. The education that they receive propagates the English
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language across the globe, and students become more comfortable about dealing with Britain, as they have an understanding of our institutions and democracy.

Mrs. Gillan: My hon. Friend is making an excellent contribution to the debate. Does he agree that it is also a two-way street? Having foreign nationals as students in our universities is also of great benefit to UK students, who learn about the cultures, practices and procedures in other countries. At a time of world turmoil, that is an important factor.

Adam Afriyie: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. It is true that there is an exchange of understanding between various cultures and political systems, which bodes well for future relations.

Most Members' postbags are full of problems associated with the Home Office, not only delays in processing applications but delays and mistakes in appeals and granting people access to appeals. Some students might undertake a particular course, and then expect to move on to take a further course, such as a PhD. Without the amendments, delays in processing their applications would mean that they would be asked to leave the country, and their right of appeal would be removed. That would generate a strong sense of ill will towards a country about which they felt very positive when they arrived.

Mr. Llwyd: Earlier in the debate, the Minister said that student numbers had apparently not gone down. We had the same debate on the tuition fees debacle, and the same comment was made then. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if this Bill is passed unamended, student numbers from abroad will definitely decrease?

Adam Afriyie: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. There is some ambiguity over the numbers, but it seems fairly clear from the percentage of international students coming to Britain that we are beginning to lose our share of the international student market. The Science and Technology Committee has considered that issue over the past few years, and it seems clear that if student numbers are reduced, there is a danger that many of our educational establishments, especially in STEM—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—areas, will suffer.

2.45 pm

Dr. Evan Harris : I serve with the hon. Gentleman on that Select Committee. One of the issues that we consider is the problem of the brain drain of researchers from this country, but by stopping students coming here, we are stopping brains arriving in the first place. The two problems are additive.

Adam Afriyie: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I have enjoyed my time serving with him on the Science and Technology Committee. We must not overestimate the impact, but it is undeniable that there will be an impact.

Mr. Jeremy Hunt (South-West Surrey) (Con): Is my hon. Friend aware that one of the most promising and important markets for international students is the
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Chinese market, and that the number of students coming from China has decreased dramatically? That is partly because the United States has just relaxed visa requirements for Chinese students, at precisely the same time as we have made it more difficult for Chinese students to come to this country to study.

Adam Afriyie: My hon. Friend makes an excellent observation, which is certainly factually correct. The Minister is shaking his head—if he disagrees, perhaps he would like to justify himself with some proper statistics.

Without the amendments, the ill will caused by delays and inadequacies at the Home Office is likely to lead to open hostility towards the visa system and the treatment of international students in Britain.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I apologise for joining the debate during the hon. Gentleman's speech. Does he agree that one way in which the system could be improved is through the three Departments concerned with entry clearance—the Foreign Office, the Home Office and the Department for Constitutional Affairs—using one reference number to deal with such cases? He must have had the same problem as I and other Members have had in trying to find three reference numbers to deal with one particular case.

Adam Afriyie: I am happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman, who has just arrived in the Chamber. There is no evidence that that approach would have the effect for which the hon. Gentleman hopes. If he thinks that it would, I suggest that he raises the matter with his party, whose thinking on the subject seems disjointed.

It is clear that one in four Home Office rulings on international students is incorrect. Our postbags bear testament to that. I would like to see international students continue to value and rate highly the education that they get in Britain, particularly in science and technology subjects. I would be very concerned if the Bill were to pass in its current form, without special classes of international students continuing to have the right of appeal, especially in the absence of Home Office efficiency.

Mr. McNulty: As I said at the start of the debate in introducing new clause 1, it is right and proper that Members should speak to the new clause and their assorted amendments specifically in relation to education, and that I should then respond. I do not seek to detain the House, but clearly many serious points have been made.

In passing, those who observe our debate from afar would think that there was an unrelenting attack on the whole notion or existence of overseas students in this country. I caution Members to be slightly more temperate in their language. We are not about to lose every overseas student application as a result of the Bill, and those who claim that are highly misinformed. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), who has just bothered to join us, talked about the huge changes that would be made in regulations governing overseas student applications. That is not in this Bill. My hon. Friend should either go and find the Bill that it is in, or desist from misinformed and ill-informed comment.
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This is a serious subject. No one demurs, in substance, from the notion of what overseas students add to our broader higher education community. No one in Committee, where we engaged in highly informed debate, said anything other than that, and for all the reasons given by the hon. Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) we continue to welcome and positively encourage overseas students. No one at a reception that I attended—

Keith Vaz : I am sorry to interrupt the Minister when he was about to tell us about the reception that he was attending when he gathered the evidence that he needs to present to us. I understand what he is saying, but the universities themselves are saying that fewer students will come here as a result of the Bill. That is why we need to take the issue seriously. The universities deal with it day in, day out. Unless decision making is better in the posts abroad—I know that the Minister has just been to New Delhi, where we have one of our best posts—we will still have a problem.

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