I met vice-chancellors from the Russell group on 8 March at an event at Nottingham university. We discussed university access, research and international issues.
I thank the Minister for that reply. On access, particularly for international students, he must be aware of how loudly alarm bells are now ringing in the Russell group and the tertiary education sector right across the UK because of the plummeting number of applications from international students as a result of the Home Office’s net migration targets. As this is worth nearly £8 billion a year to UK plc, can he not put pressure on his Home Office colleagues to see sense?
The latest evidence from UCAS shows that applications to British universities from outside the EU are going up, but it is absolutely right that we should back our very successful higher education sector. It is not a business, but it does have a lot of exports and the 400,000 students who come here from abroad to study can be regarded as an export success. That is why there is no limit on the number of genuine students who can come to the UK to study. There is no cap on their numbers.
I want to reinforce the point that the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr Kennedy) just put to the Minister. The new visa regime is causing huge instability and sending a very discouraging signal internationally. Given how important the HE sector and the Russell group are to trade, and given that it is such an important exporter, will the Minister speak to the Immigration Minister and urge him to change these rules?
Of course we are in close contact with the Home Office on the implementation of these rules, but the key point is that there is no cap on the number of overseas students who can come to Britain. I take every opportunity on trade missions abroad, as do the Prime Minister and other members of the Government, to communicate very clearly in crucial counties such as India that there is no limit on the number of legitimate students with the appropriate qualifications who would be very welcome to come here and study at British universities.