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International Students

Volume 448: debated on Thursday 29 June 2006

3. If he will make a statement on the plan to attract an additional 100,000 international students to the UK by 2011. (80881)

The objective of the second phase of the Prime Minister’s initiative for international education is to secure and sustain the UK’s position as a leader in international education in both the further and higher education sectors. We are working with the British Council and the higher education and further education sectors to increase the number of international students studying in the UK and to support UK universities and colleges in developing collaborative partnerships with institutions overseas.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer and I am very pleased with the Government’s measures to attract more foreign students. My constituency certainly houses one of the best international schools in the country, Concord college, and I invite the Secretary of State to come along and see the work that is done there. Its impact on the rural local economy is huge, with so many foreign students coming in and contributing to it, so it is important that we continue to get our fair share of foreign students coming to learn in our country.

I would be delighted to visit Shrewsbury at some stage in my schedule to see that college in action—

In Atcham and in action. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) is absolutely right to stress the importance of overseas students, particularly to the UK economy. It is estimated that overseas students bring in £5 billion in fees and other spending while they are over here. Overseas students studying in the UK are crucial to our need to address the economic problems of the 21st century, particularly in respect of globalisation. I agree with the hon. Gentleman, which is exactly why the second phase of the Prime Minister’s initiative was announced in April

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the Labour-led Scottish Executive’s fresh talent initiative, which not only encourages students to study in Scotland but to live in Scotland after they have qualified. Can the Government learn any lessons from that initiative?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and we are already learning the lessons in our discussions with the Scottish Executive. The Scottish Executive and the UK Government are involved in a constant process of learning from each other in respect of such initiatives.

But the Secretary of State will be aware that Scotland’s fresh talent initiative offers overseas students a two-year visa extension if they go to a Scottish university. If they go to an English university, however, it is only for one year and it applies to a much more restricted range of subjects. Is it right to have separate visa regimes for overseas students going to Scottish and English universities?

We make different decisions, which is what devolution is about. Our decision to extend the visa by 12 months, which we recently announced, is based on the demography and availability of work in this country. It is a different decision, but along the same lines as that reached by the Scottish Executive. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Devine), we will learn the lessons from Scotland, but the circumstances are different north and south of the border. We believe that the extension to 12 months is the right way to proceed.

I have with me a list of reserved subjects post-devolution. Among the reserved subjects for UK policy are

“Nationality; immigration, including asylum and the status and capacity of persons in the UK who are not British citizens”.

Although education is a devolved matter, visa rules are not. Is the Secretary of State really telling the House that he believes that having different visa regimes for students in Scotland and England are consistent with the devolution settlement that his Government introduced?

Yes, but there is no contradiction between that and our deciding that there are different circumstances—demographic factors, employment prospects and so forth—in Scotland as opposed to the UK. Actually, the extension to 12 months has been widely welcomed by UK universities and there has not been a big debate about what happens north and south of the border. The circumstances are different. The hon. Gentleman is right that it is not a devolved issue, but it does not detract from the different circumstances in the two countries.

In figures given in the Official Report on 6 June at column 536W, the Department showed that, in higher education institutes alone, there are almost 1.9 million students studying in Britain. Incidentally, 100,000 of those study at the four universities in Greater Manchester. Does my right hon. Friend agree that not only the impact on the local economy while the students are studying in Britain but the continued contacts and influence that they take with them when they return to their countries are important?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and has identified a crucial element. Not only the money they spend in this country but the links that they retain with this country after they have left university are important. That is one of the principal reasons for the Prime Minister’s initiative, alongside other separate initiatives for considering links with, for example, Russia and China. All the initiatives are important for the future of this country.