1. On 4 September 2012, we published a Report
on Overseas Students and Net Migration.
That Report considered the way the Government classifies overseas
students in net migration figures. The Report did not recommend
the removal of overseas students from migration statistics, nor
did it recommend that the Government deviate from the UN definition
of migration for international data returns. In fact, our Report
recognised "the need for an agreed definition for the international
reporting of migrants" and agreed that "the UN definition
is a useful tool in that respect".
2. The Report went on to note that while the
UN definition of migration included overseas students, the Government
"was under no obligation to use that definition for the development
of domestic policy". We concluded that:
Removing overseas students from the Government's
migration targets would allow universities to compete on a level
playing field with their international competitors. It would also
allow the Home Office to concentrate on economic migrants and
their value to the United Kingdom.
The key recommendation in the Report was as follows:
We recommend that, for domestic policy purposes,
overseas students should be recorded under a separate classification
and not be counted against the overall limit on net migration.
That does not mean that we wish to hide the level of overseas
students studying in the UK. The Government could make clear the
distinction by publishing, alongside its net migration data, detailed
information on the number of overseas students studying in the
UK, their country of origin, the number who remain here after
they have completed their studies and the number who remain in
higher education. Such an approach would make clear the difference
between permanent immigration and study and crucially it would
demonstrate clearly that the United Kingdom welcomes overseas
students and values the contribution they make to our economy.
The Government Response
3. There is a long-standing convention that Government
Departments should respond to select committee reports within
two months. In some circumstances a longer delay "may be
considered permissible when those circumstances have been explained
to the committee concerned".
Given the fact that policy in this area is determined by both
the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Home
Office we accepted that there would be some delay in receiving
4. The Government published its response on Tuesday
26 February, nearly
four months after the two month deadline. Given this extended
delay we would have expected it to have been a thorough and detailed
piece of work. It is not and it falls short of the level of quality
we would expect from a Government Department.
5. We do not normally publish a Report so soon
after a Government Response. However, on this occasion we believe
that this is necessary. Not only is the Response very short but
there are a number of assertions and statements which need to
GOVERNMENT STRATEGY AND SUPPORT
6. Higher Education is a key economic sector
for the UK economy. As the Government notes:
Education exports (encompassing higher and further
education, schools, English Language Teaching and educational
products and services) contribute more than £14bn to the
UK economy each year.
7. Our Report stated that UK universities are
an "export success story" but highlighted the fact that
they were taking "an increasingly pessimistic view"
in their future projections of market share in the overseas student
market. We concluded that it was clear that "the Government's
policies in respect of student immigration have played a significant
part in this decline" and that this should be of "deep
concern to the Government". We therefore made the following
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
has a responsibility to support UK universities, and to promote
export success. As a matter of urgency it needs to demonstrate
that it has an active strategy to support the expansion of this
important and lucrative market.
8. The Government's response addressed that recommendation
in the following terms:
In September 2012, Vince Cable announced that the
Government will develop strategies for a number of sectors in
which the UK has a competitive advantage and where government
action could support their growth, including education. Work has
already commenced on this strategy, and its overarching objective
is "to exploit the excellence of the UK education sector
to increase export earnings and the UK's international influence".
The strategy will be co-created with industry and other sectoral
organisations, and will be published between now and next summer.
9. The Government's timetable to publish a strategy
sometime between now and next summer is unacceptable. It shows
a complete lack of understanding about the urgency which is required.
There is a perception overseas that the UK is becoming less welcome
to overseas students. Delaying the publication of this strategy
until some indeterminate time in the future runs the risk that
this perception will harden and therefore could undermine the
ability of UK Universities to expand their share of the overseas
market. It also runs contrary to the Prime Minister's vigorous
efforts to promote UK Universities abroad; most recently seen
during his visit to India earlier in February.
10. The Government's loose timetable
of "between now and next summer" for a strategy to promote
the Higher Education sector is unacceptable. The Government has
to produce a deliverable strategy to support UK Universities far
more quickly, and in any case before the end of June 2013. This
would give us the opportunity to review it before the summer recess.
FUDGING THE FACTS?
11. The Government's response contains a number
of assertions which we believe are open to challenge.
12. In respect of international definitions for
net migration, the Government stated that:
The OECD does not have a separate definition of net
migration and supports use of the UN's definition. However, since
some countries do not collect this data, for example because they
do not have registration systems or measure outflows, it has produced
a 'harmonised' set of data to compare immigration across different
This runs contrary to the evidence given to us. In
particular, it fails to acknowledge the fact that the OECD classifies
overseas students as temporary migrants for the first 36 monthsthe
length of a 3 year degree course. This is a key difference and
one which should not be ignored.
13. The Government goes on to say that:
All the UK's major competitors include students in
their figures for net migration. These countries also distinguish
between different categories of migrant in their immigration statistics,
but information on emigrants can be much more limited.
At best, we believe that this is only a partial reflection
of the facts. As Universities UK pointed out to us, the US, Canada
and Australia all treat international students as temporary migrants
for domestic policy development.
14. The Government also appears to dispute the
negative impact that its approach is having on the Higher Education
sector. In its response, it states that:
New data relating to visa applications by education
sector was published as part of the quarterly immigration statistics
for the first time on 29 November. This information is an important
ongoing contribution to the available data on student migration.
Statistics for July to September 2012 showed that the university
sector accounted for 74% of visa applications, up from 52% in
the same period the previous year, reflecting falls in other sectors
while the university sector held steady. The Government's success
in reducing abuse of student visas, while the number of successful
applicants to study at British universities is up, means that
we can now look forward to a period of policy stability on student
However, figures provided to us by Universities UK
paint a very different picture. They indicate that:
- The number of first year non-EU
students at Higher Education Institutes decreased by 0.4% in 2011-12,
largely as a result of a decrease amongst postgraduates. Non-EU
entrants to postgraduate degrees fell by 2% between 2010 and 2011.
- The overall number of non-EU students enrolled
on courses in universities is up by 1.5% from 2010-2011. However,
this is driven by increases in the number of new entrants in previous
years, many of whom are enrolled on courses lasting more than
one year. (The critical figure with which to judge the impact
of Government policy is new enrolments in year 2011-12.)
- The total number of non-EU students enrolled
on postgraduate courses dropped for the first time in ten years,
before which records are not directly comparable.
- Recent figures released by the Home Office show
that Tier 4 visa applications are substantially down, although
the majority of the decrease is accounted for by a decrease in
the number of visa applications for study at further education
institutions and private colleges. Visa applications for study
at HEIs are flat. In the context of a rapidly growing and highly
competitive international market, and the government's commitment
to 'sustainable growth in a market in which the UK excels', this
is a cause for concern.
15. The Government also appears to rely at least
in part on a 2010 Home Office study which stated that:
Around one in five international students who came
to the UK in 2004 were still in the immigration system five years
That study was based on a cohort of students who
were studying before the current Government came to power. As
such we do not see the relevance of the study to current immigration
policy, not least because they precede those measures introduced
to tackle visa abuse which the Government focused on heavily in
16. If the Government is to
deliver credible response to our recommendations it needs to set
out the facts in far greater depth and detail. The current evidence
base is too weak to justify a policy with such profound implications
for the FE and HE sectors. As a start, we expect the Government
to respond to the questions raised as a matter of urgency.
17. It is not just our Committee which believe
that the reclassification of overseas students as temporary migrants
for domestic policy purposes is necessary. Five parliamentary
committees have considered this issue and last month the Chairs
of those CommitteesBusiness, Innovation and Skills Committee,
Public Accounts Committee, Home Affairs Committee, House of Lords
Science and Technology Committee and House of Lords EU Sub-Committee
on Home Affairs, Health and Education wrote to the Prime Minister
urging the change of policy.
The Government Response should have taken that collective view
into account. It is clear that it did not.
18. The Government's Response
was late, woefully short on detail and fails to take account of
recent developments. It seeks to underplay the urgency of the
problem and thus excuse the failure to act decisively to address
this serious matter. The Government should listen, think again
and change course.
1 Fourth Report from the Business, Innovation and Skills
Committee, Overseas Students and Net Migration, HC 425
of Session 2012-13 Back
HC (2012-13) 425, para 24 Back
HC (2012-13) 425, para 38 Back
HC (2012-13) 425, para 39 Back
Erskine May, 24th Edition, page 837 Back
Government Response to the Fourth Report from the Business, Innovation
And Skills Committee Session 2012-13 HC 425: Overseas Students
And Net Migration, Cm 8557 Back
CM 8557, page 1 Back
HC (2012-13) 425, para 15 Back
Cm 8557, page 1 Back
Cm 8557 page 2 Back
HC (2012-13) 425, Q16, Ev 26 Back
Cm 8557, page 4 Back
HC (2012-13) 425, Q8, Ev 25 Back
Cm 8557, page 3 Back
See Appendix Back
Cm 8557, page 2 Back
Migration target must leave out students, MPs say-Letter from
chairs of five parliamentary committees tells PM that student
visa policy needs to encourage study in Britain, The Guardian,
31 January 2013 Back