Magazine article Times Higher Education

Stubbornly Indifferent

Magazine article Times Higher Education

Stubbornly Indifferent

Article excerpt

The government's immigration policy harms student traffic from abroad and the economy, claims Shabana Mahmood.

The government's immigration policy is doing real and significant damage to both UK higher education and our economy.

Campaigners are trying to persuade the government to remove international students from the net migration statistics. This is understandable, but we must also remember that the damage is not the result of a statistical quirk but of deliberate acts of government policy.

The problem is the prime minister's pledge - his "no ifs, no buts" policy to get net migration down to the tens of thousands by 2015 - a pledge that he is unlikely to be able to fulfil. That is because two significant components of net migration are people coming to this country from the European Union and the number of British citizens who leave, neither of which the government can do anything about.

Unbelievably, the pledge makes it a sign of success if more Brits move abroad, and the recent drop in net migration was achieved mostly by fewer Brits returning home, more leaving and fewer foreign students entering.

Moreover, neither of the government's other major reforms to control non- EU migration - a cap on economic migrants and higher salary thresholds for spouses - will have enough impact on net migration levels to meet his target because the numbers here are relatively small.

The reality is that to get net migration down, the government must significantly reduce the number of students coming to study in this country - simply because they are easiest to control.

It is important to remember, too, that the government's pledge on net migration was made in full knowledge of this. You do not need a detailed knowledge of immigration statistics to work out what the impact of an immigration policy based solely on reducing net migration numbers will be.

Tightening the system against abuse is important and is something that we support, but this government is now threatening the flow of entirely legitimate international students, and they and our universities are taking a significant hit - one that we can ill-afford.

If Labour were in power today, the focus of our approach to controlling immigration would certainly not be big cuts in the number of legitimate foreign university students, who bring in huge resources and leave after a few years when their course is finished. …

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