Public opposed to reducing international student numbers - poll

Posted On: 
13th April 2017

The majority of Britons do not want to cut the number of international students in the UK, a new poll suggests. 

Net migration for long-term study was 134,000 in the year to September 2016
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The ComRes survey – conducted for higher education lobby group Universities UK – found only one in five wanted fewer foreign nationals at UK universities.

Almost half (46%) wanted student immigration to remain at the same level, while the number of people wanting it to increase has fallen from 18% last year to 12% in this survey.

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After the respondents were given information on the economic impact of international students, they became more favourable. The proportion wanting an increase doubled to 24% and those wanting the same edged up to 49%.

The most recent net migration statistics covering the year to September 2016 put long-term student immigration at 134,000, down 23%.

Amid a Cabinet split over whether international students should be counted in the official migration statistics, the survey found only a quarter of people thought of them as immigrants.

Boris Johnson and Liam Fox are among those to oppose including those coming for education from the figures, while Philip Hammond said the recording system should reflect “public perception”.

But Downing Street has ruled out a change in the way they are recorded, and Amber Rudd has suggested she wants to reduce the number of foreign students as part of efforts to cut immigration.

Of the 4,000 people polled by ComRes, more than 60% agreed with statements that foreign students had a positive impact on the economy and culture of university towns, compared to less than 20% who disagreed.

Three-quarters said the students should be allowed to remain in the UK “for a period of time... to contribute to the economy” after graduating.

Universities UK president Dame Julia Goodfellow said the results showed the public did not view students as immigrants, but as “valuable, temporary visitors”.

She called for a “welcoming message” to be issued to those thinking about coming to study in the UK.

“While the UK government continues to count international students as long-term migrants in its target to reduce migration, there is a continued pressure to reduce their numbers, adding to the perception that they are not welcome here,” she said.

“The most recent figures on international students in the UK showed a worrying decline in the number of new international enrolments over recent years. At the same time, competitor countries such as the USA and Australia have seen increases. Both countries open their arms to international students and classify them as being non-permanent or temporary residents in their immigration systems.

“The UK could be doing much better than this. The UK has the potential to be one of the world’s fastest growing destinations for international students, building on its current status as the second most popular destination for international students [after the US].

“If the UK wants to remain a top destination for international students, we need a new immigration policy that encourages them to choose the UK. As the UK prepares to exit the EU, it is more important than ever that we project a welcoming message to talented people from across the world.”