By Sir Andrew Green
Chairman of Migration Watch UK
Conservative Home, 1 July, 2014
The antics of the Higher Education lobby are becoming increasingly absurd. Take yesterday’s “news” in the Daily Telegraph that “Students ‘must be stripped out of immigration figures’”. The article reported findings from the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) – a think tank that claims to be independent and non-partisan, yet is funded by UK Universities – adding that prospective Conservative MPs believe that students should be removed from the net migration target. Yet a closer inspection would suggest nothing of the sort.
HEPI conducted what they themselves admit was a small survey amongst Conservative candidates fighting the 2015 election and published their conclusions without admitting just how small the survey actually was. It seems that HEPI asked 68 prospective Conservative candidates a series of questions about student immigration; with a response rate of 26 per cent, this amounted to just 18 prospective candidates. Of the respondents, 78 per cent believed that students should be excluded from the net migration target (in response to a heavily skewed question) – that is just 14 respondents. Are we really meant to change immigration policy on the basis of the answers to a skewed question from 14 people?
Now for some facts. Students are the largest component of non-EU inflow into the UK. In 2013 220,000 people migrated to the UK from outside the EU – 122,000 or 55 per cent, of who were students. To remove these 122,000 individuals from the statistics is do what the public would certainly describe as “fiddling the figures”. It is also entirely unnecessary. If students go home at the end of their studies they will also appear in the statistics when they leave, cancelling out the inflow. Calling for students to be removed from the net migration target is, of course, a tacit admission that students are contributing to net migration.
And indeed they do. According to the International Passenger Survey, between 2008 and 2012 an average of 156,000 non-EU students entered the country each year between 2008 and 2012. Yet the ONS also estimates that in 2012 and 2013 only about 50,000 non-EU students left the country, just a third of average inflow (before 2012 we had no idea how many students had left). This means that students are staying on in the UK, either legally by extending their stay as a student or by switching into work. Indeed, it is very easy for students to stay on and work if they can find graduate level work paying a minimum of just £20,000 per year. Alternatively, they can simply stay on illegally.
There are many examples of abuse of the student route, from the finding of the National Audit Office that in 2009 alone 50,000 “students” came to work rather than study, to the recent abuse uncovered by BBC Panorama: a subsequently investigation found that as many as 48,000 students may have fraudulently obtained English Language certificates in order to support applications to remain in the UK. Nor is abuse confined to the Further Education and college sector as the suspension of Glyndwr University’s licence demonstrates. In this context it is absurd for students to be removed from the net migration statistics –and by extension the target – whether 14 prospective MPs say so or not.
The present policy is right. Genuine students should continue to be welcome but they must be properly recorded in the immigration statistics, as is the case for all our main competitor countries. The Higher Education lobby weaken their own case by attempting to take the rest of us for fools.