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International Students

Volume 560: debated on Thursday 21 March 2013

13. What recent assessment he has made of the costs and benefits of international students to the UK economy. (149141)

International students provide enormous economic and cultural benefits to the UK. Education exports from further and higher education contribute some £9 billion to the economy. We therefore stated in January that we will place no cap on the number of genuine students coming from across the world to study in this country.

I thank the Minister for that answer. We all understand the importance of clearing up the chaotic mess of immigration left by the last Government and the attention that the public pay to reducing the total numbers, but many of us would like to see student numbers excluded from our migration statistics. The economic case has been made by Universities UK and the 1994 Group. Will the Minister reassure me that he is sensitive to these representations?

My hon. Friend is right. The first priority was to eliminate abuse so that people can have confidence that students are legitimate. We have now said that we will disaggregate the statistics so that students are separately identified. The next step is a positive education export strategy, which we will produce before the summer.

The Royal Botanic Gardens in my constituency carries out world-leading research that benefits the UK in many ways. International students and interns are an important part of that work, but the gardens’ particular organisational status sometimes makes it difficult to obtain visas for them. If I write to the Minister with the details, will he, perhaps in conjunction with his colleagues in the Home Office, look at this issue to help support its important work?

I am always happy to work with the Minister for Immigration, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), to iron out such problems, but the general point is very simple: genuine, legitimate students are allowed into this country and there is no limit on the numbers.

The Minister tries to paint a rosy picture, but the facts are that the recent drop in net migration is due to 38,000 fewer international students coming to this country. His policy is choking growth in our seventh-largest export industry, worth billions of pounds, at a time when our economy is flatlining. It is clear that the Minister is too weak to make the case for our world-class universities around the world and too weak to lobby his Government colleagues to change course. Does he agree with me that the one genuine achievement of the net migration pledge has been a net decrease in his own credibility?

The hon. Lady should understand that we have a clear policy: there is no limit on the number of students. I went with the Prime Minister on his most recent trade mission to India, accompanied by leading vice-chancellors, to communicate clearly and directly to one of our most important markets for overseas students that they are welcome to come and study in the UK.