12. What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills on the potential effect of the Government’s immigration policies on the number of international students enrolling in UK universities. (900752)
The Home Secretary regularly meets her Cabinet counterparts to discuss a range of issues, including how we can continue to attract the brightest and the best to study at our world-class institutions, while also bearing down on abuse. The UK remains the second most popular destination for university students.
I am grateful for that answer. In the 2013-14 academic year, 1,685 non-EU students studied at Stirling University, but the UK Government’s decision in 2012 to abolish the post-study work visa means that at the end of their studies they cannot remain and contribute to the local economy or the national economy of Scotland. Given that reconsideration of these visas has been recommended under Smith commission proposals, will the Minister undertake to reintroduce them or at least devolve the powers to do so?
It is important to understand that the numbers coming to our universities from outside the EU continue to grow. In the year ending September 2014, there was a 3% increase in the number of university-sponsored study visa applications for higher education institutions in Scotland. The hon. Gentleman raises the issues relating to the Smith commission and, certainly at official level, discussions have continued. However, I would highlight the risk: post-study work was abused—there is a route already in existence to allow that at the appropriate salary level—but obviously we will continue to discuss the issue.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that there are no limits on the number of foreign students who can come here, provided they meet requirements for speaking the English language and educational achievement, and as long as they can support themselves while they are in our country?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there are no limits on the number of students whom we welcome to this country and who enrich our universities, but our focus is on ensuring that they leave at the end of their studies. It should not be about work; it should be about study.
23. Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Steven Paterson), does the Minister agree that there is an economic case to be made for greatly expanding the number of international students at university on these islands, that the income derived from them helps universities to maintain their standards, and that allowing young graduates to remain after their studies and make a contribution to the economy, paying taxes, growing businesses and so on, is an economic benefit that we would be foolish to shun? (900763)
As I have already indicated, there is no cap on the number of students coming to study at our world-leading universities, but the National Audit Office reported back in 2009-10, under the arrangements that existed under the last Labour Government, that 50,000 students may have come here to work and not to study. That is the abuse we have seen when we take our eye off the ball, and that is why we have made those reforms and why we need to continue to focus on the overall student situation.