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International Students

Volume 677: debated on Monday 22 June 2020

This month I appointed the UK’s first international education champion. Together we are working to provide reassurance that our internationally renowned, world-leading universities will be open, flexible and welcoming. We are also communicating the fact that we recently strengthened the UK’s offer by announcing the new graduate route.

International students are extremely important to the University of Buckingham, making up over 40% of all students there. Will my hon. Friend work closely with the University of Buckingham and look at all possible measures to ensure that international students can fully participate as soon as possible in the first-class education the university has to offer?

I certainly will. I am leading a two-tier covid response to attract international students: first, by working across government to remove and reduce the logistical barriers faced by students, including visa issues; and secondly, by communicating that the UK is open for business via advertising and open letters to international students, our embassies, and international media.

If I may, I would just like to offer a couple of words on Fred Jarvis, who, at 95 years old, was also a friend of mine—a formidable education campaigner. He taught me many, many things, one of them being, “Don’t ever patronise the elderly—they know more than any of the rest of us put together.” Bless you, Fred.

International students bring £20 billion to our economy, and global soft power and influence, the loss of which will not just damage our universities. I do recognise the uphill battle the Minister faces, hindered by a slow and ineffective Home Office and the heartbreaking reality that the UK’s covid-19 death toll is now the third highest in the world. So how will she ensure that our universities maintain capacity and sustain courses if international student numbers decline?

As I have already outlined, we are working to help to mitigate the challenges that universities face, which are faced globally in the higher education sector. In addition, on 4 May we announced a sustainability package on top of the additional support that the Treasury had already announced—£700 million to the sector, including the job retention scheme and access to coronavirus loans. The package that we announced on 4 May also included bringing forward £100 million of quality-related funding for research because, as the hon. Lady will know, international students cross-subsidise research.