24 Oct 2016, 10 mins ago

The former Conservative deputy Prime Minister, Lord Heseltine, this week told the BBC, at the Conservative Party Conference, that he favours excluding foreign students from the present Government’s target of cutting net migration below 100,000 by the time of next year’s General Election – a target Government sources have privately admitted is unlikely.

His comments come following the publication of a joint poll by the thinktank British Future and Universities UK, the umbrella body representing British Universities, the results of which suggest that nearly 60% of people polled believe that the Government should not seek to reduce the number of international students.

Around 66% of Conservative supporters agreed with Lord Heseltine, who explained that, in his view, foreign students coming to the UK brought considerable benefits and that the public did not view students as ‘Immigrants’, a theory backed up by the study, which found only 22% of those polled thought of foreign students as immigrants.

Universities have been vocal during the term of the present Government about the benefits and skills foreign students bring to the United Kingdom and any cap of the number of foreign students would have a serious impact of the finances of further education providers.

As reported by the BBC, the report findings detail that when the sample are told that students do count as immigrants for the purposes of the government’s target, “the most common reaction is surprise and even bafflement that international students are classified as immigrants at all”.

It is clear that there is a dichotomy between the perception of migrants in the UK and Government targets. This isn’t particularly surprising and has been reported for quite some time. In general, it is reasonable to say that the electorate’s view of ‘immigrants’ as a category of person is largely that predicated by the right wing press. People such as students, who generally come and go are not viewed as part of the ‘problem’ of immigration which the Government pedals.

The Home Office said foreign students were included in the figures because they had “an impact on our communities and on our public services” and because this was the practice followed by Britain’s competitors and by the UN.

The view at Gherson is that students contribute to the prestige in which the British educational system is held, and agree with Lord Heseltine that alumni play a significant ‘ambassadorial role’ along with the financial stability that enables our institutions to maintain and develop their ‘silver service’ standards.

The Labour Party also favours excluding students from immigration targets but it is obvious from the results of the poll is that what is required is serious engagement by both Government and opposition with the public, many of whom already consider politicians out of touch with the working person.

The Tory MP Mark Field, Chairman of Conservatives for Managed Migration, also backed the findings of the Report, telling the Guardian that “Politicians are rightly expected to engage with public concerns about immigration, and the government has done so admirably, but it is time politicians recognised that there are different types of immigration,” he said.

Of course there has been abuse of the student visa system, but as applications to UK Universities continue to rise, particularly within the Russell Group of Universities it is important that Westminster recognises that the public has made the distinction between the different types of migrant and that the onus is on the Government to do the same thing.

Neil Paterson


1 October 2014