Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note of the application of immigration policy to overseas students at United Kingdom universities and colleges.
My Lords, after our decision to leave the European Union, we are now setting out to woo the world. In the words of the Prime Minister at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet, we are a “flexible, ambitious country” stepping up to “a new global role”.
Higher education and further education both incorporate a large number of world-leading courses and institutions. They have long-standing success and reputations overseas. They bring in a great deal of money in a growth market. They give us relationships across the world and over time that we can use for other purposes. They should be absolutely central to the Prime Minister’s ambition, but we are making a complete mess and losing market share. We need to sort that out together.
What each of us does affects the whole, as should be obvious to the Home Office from the effects of the random policy announcements at the Conservative Party conference. Some of the remedy, of course, is in the hands of universities, and the Home Office has my sympathy in having to deal with them. They move slowly, they tend to set the bar at the bottom—when faced with a range of performance they tend to set it at the lowest setting possible and then say, “Aren’t we good? We all do better than that”. They are very slow to engage with politicians. Despite having the support of the editor of the Times Higher Educational Supplement, I have had no response from anybody in academia, other than those I have approached myself, as to what policy changes the Government ought to make. They seem, judging from the pronouncements one comes across in the press and other media, to be mostly concerned with their own affairs and not really with what is happening to the rest of us. They do not appear to be as collaborative as they should be in this world. They market themselves individually overseas; the GREAT campaign, which succeeded in other areas of the economy, has really not made as much progress in knowledge, to my mind, as it should have.
However, it is the Home Office we have in front of us today, so most of my speech will concentrate on what I think it could do to improve things. My first question for my noble friend is, what is the problem? I do not mean that pejoratively; it is a bemused inquiry. No one I have spoken to in doing research for this debate has a clue as to what the Home Office thinks the problem is. What is the problem? Why is it a problem? What are its priorities? Nobody knows and it is really hard to collaborate with the Home Office and think of ways to help it while we help ourselves when we have no clue what it wants. It strikes me that the Home Office thinks that it does not need to communicate—it knows what the problems are, it is in charge of solving the problems and only it need do anything. It is a half-starved bulldog chained up outside in all weathers, waiting to bite anyone who tries to get in the front door. This is not true, particularly with Brexit: we are all in this together, we all have responsibility, particularly for immigration, since controlling immigration is clearly one of our objectives, post-Brexit.
All of us—the Government, employers, universities and individuals—have a shared responsibility, over time, to do something about the level of immigration. The Home Office is going to have plenty of trouble with employers on that; I wish more power to its elbow, but it should expect our collaboration and co-operation and it should involve us. Similarly, the Home Office has a responsibility for the economy, for trade, for employment and for the reputation of Britain as a whole, to which it must pay attention, rather than thinking it can make pronouncements and policies in total isolation.
Things have improved over the past few years. It is now possible for a university to have a dedicated officer at UKVI, paid for by the university—quite rightly so—to deal with problems as they arise and act as a conduit for questions. There is a very interesting pilot going on with Imperial College and some other universities to see what can be done to improve things further in return for privileges in the way that overseas students are dealt with. I thoroughly approve of that as a way of developing things, but much more needs to be done.
Fundamentally, as I have said, the Home Office needs to share its concerns. We are not, thank goodness, in the era of the Somme or Balaclava; it is not ours to do or die and not to reason why. We want things to be explained to us and to be allowed to contribute to decisions, to make them better and to make them things that we all own. I greatly encourage the Home Office to open up so that we can really know what the problem is and how we can set about solving it together. We have to wait, quite reasonably, for the Home Office to develop immigration policy generally. The post-study work route, which matters a lot when it comes to marketing university courses overseas, is fundamentally subservient to our overall, detailed immigration objectives. It has a lot of attractions as a method of immigration. By the time people become qualified, they have been with us a long time, we know them, they know us, and they have a loyalty and affection for us. They are a very good source of migration, if that is what we want and if it is where we want it. Once we have that policy I very much hope that post-study work visas will re-emerge as a very good way of bringing in whatever it is we want by way of immigration.
There is scope for a much more open, much deeper relationship between the Home Office and universities. Over the past six years or so the Government have created high-performing, highly accountable partners in universities, people who are used to working positively with the Home Office, who are greatly incentivised to work well with the Home Office and who can and should be relied on. However, they are not involved where they absolutely should be: designing systems, forms and websites. All these things make a great difference to how potential students perceive the UK. The connection with in-country officers is far too loose. This is true even for schools. Immigration to independent schools is pretty well trouble-free except for the behaviour of some in-country officers. It really does not seem to be integrated with the systems that the Home Office has. There needs to be much better connection there.
There needs to be fast correction of mistakes. Even obviously wrong decisions can take six months to set right. If it is a problem of finance then the Home Office should draw money from the university system to staff things properly. If a university notifies the Home Office that a particular student is sick and needs to defer their course for a year, the Home Office takes six months to register that fact and that six months is then deducted from a student’s right to study in the UK. That is not correct. We have just introduced the right to rent. Nothing has been done, as far as I can find out, to make that an easier policy for universities to navigate or to make it easier for them to help their students rent privately, as many of them have to. There does not appear to be any positive approach to the idea of students coming here at 14 or 16 and our taking them through to the end of a degree in a UK university, which is a growing part of the market.
There are lots of areas where there is scope for collaboration and continuous improvement in the way that the Home Office and universities work together to make us a better destination for overseas students. I would really like to see an “educated in Britain” database that records every student who has been the beneficiary of UK education, so that we can support them and they can support each other to create opportunities for trade and to help market UK education for future students.
The conference speech by the Home Secretary was a particular disappointment to me in the way it addressed universities. The idea of discrimination on quality, that there are courses so bad that they are fit only for putting our own children into debt, is not something that appeals to me or has any resonance overseas. I come back to my initial question: what is the problem to which this is an answer? There must be better ways of tackling it, if only we could be told what the problem is. I do not want to see, and I am sure that my noble friend does not want to see, the University of Huddersfield struck off the list as not being grand enough for overseas students. Why should we discriminate in that way? If overseas people want to study at our further education colleges—there are some wonderful, world-leading courses—or even if they just want to come here to study English, why should we put them off if we are in proper control of the consequences of our immigration policies?
That comes back to the old problem of the treatment of students as immigrants. Yesterday Jo Johnson restated to the APPG on International Students that there is no cap on student numbers; there is no cap on tier 2. Clearly, a group of people to whom that applies are not immigrants in the way that we usually think of them; nor do people around the country think of them as immigrants in the usual way. Their inclusion in the figures means that every time we do something to try to control immigration, which we will be doing pretty frequently, that is read overseas as an attack on overseas students.
We are completely muddying the waters. The problem is overstayers. We do not know how many overstayers there are. There are some good low estimates; there may be other estimates, but the fact that there are no data is down to the Home Office because it is not recording exits properly. Why should the Home Office’s failure be visited on universities? There is no good reason for it. It would be much better for everybody if the figures were separated and we could have a clear view of what is happening in the areas of immigration that we all care about.
The Home Office has demonstrated a great ability to be destructive to the reputation of higher education abroad. I believe that it could become a constructive partner and still achieve its objectives but that belief is based on my imagination as to what those objectives are. I wish it would. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for securing this debate and declare an interest as a council member of two universities: Nottingham Trent and UCL. I have sympathy with a great deal of what he said, although I must say that I received a very good briefing from Universities UK and several other university groups.
This topic has been raised many times in your Lordships’ House and each time the Government have refused to act. Numbers are falling or merely holding steady as the market expands and our competitors increase their share. I am not going to cite a list of data. We know that they show that economically, diplomatically and academically, international students are a huge asset to the UK. We should treasure our prestige as a country that has one of the best higher education systems in the world. I worry that the Government do not treasure it.
The Government are consulting on further restrictions, apparently related to quality of institutions or courses. They do us all a great disservice by casting aspersions on the quality of some of our universities, based on no evidence and no apparent understanding of the architecture which guarantees that any UK university offering degrees meets rigorous quality criteria. There are not even any international data on the quality of teaching as a basis for comparison. This is a real own goal.
Attracting “the brightest and the best” has become a trap. Now we see it being deployed in defence of an argument that some as yet undefined subset of universities should have the right to attract international students. I can think of no other area where the Government would take this view. To use a retail analogy, it is inconceivable that the Government would want to allow Burberry to flourish while preventing M&S from succeeding abroad. Each has its own strengths and its own appeal. Of the two universities I know best, UCL attracts the highest number of international students in the UK; Nottingham Trent was voted the best university for international student experience in the 2016 WhatUni? Student Choice awards. They have different missions as universities. Each has its own strengths and its own appeal but they both offer an amazing educational experience for their international students. To put it another way, it would be nonsensical to act to save jobs at Nissan while actively undermining Sunderland’s other major employer—the university.
This House should send three clear messages to the Government, and I hope that the Minister will deal with each of them in her reply. First, any institution successfully reviewed by the Quality Assurance Agency should be deemed, on the basis of that sound evidence, to be an institution of high quality. The Government should not undermine faith in our rigorous quality assurance system by suggesting otherwise; or, if they doubt the efficacy of that system, by all means let them review it. Secondly, the new teaching excellence framework should not be used as a mechanism to determine immigration policy. That is not what it was designed to do. It would be a spectacular own goal to use it as a way of categorising our universities overseas. Thirdly, we should reiterate the view taken by this House time and again—it was mentioned again by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas—that if we want a Britain open to the world, the Government must now urgently reconsider their attitude to the inclusion of students in the net migration target.
It is in the interests of this country that we attract international students and staff from around the world. We benefit from the network of personal relationships formed while students are here. One in seven world leaders was educated here, and the Government’s own research shows that people who have studied in the UK are 18% more likely to trade or invest with us. We benefit from the economic impact in towns and cities across the UK. In London alone, international students bring an estimated £3 billion to the economy. In the Nottingham area, NTU’s international student fees contribute to 4,000 directly created jobs, plus a further 6,500, generated mostly in local businesses. Add the universities of Nottingham, Derby, Leicester, Loughborough and Lincoln and you have a formidable regional nexus. UK students benefit enormously from the richness of bringing together the brightest minds from around the world. The provost at UCL has commented that teams of people from different backgrounds are great for problem-solving because they will approach the problems differently.
All these points have been made time and again across both sides of the House yet we seem to be moving backwards, not forwards. But there is a new circumstance, which means that we should renew our effort. Following the vote to leave the European Union, the Government are rightly committed to forging stronger relationships around the world. Universities’ global alumni reinforce the UK’s world influence; surely this is important post-Brexit. Education is one of the UK’s greatest exports. Our Prime Minister’s recent visit to India demonstrates that our desire to trade will receive a frosty reception if we maintain our attitude on student visas. To paraphrase India’s PM Modi, “You want our trade but not our children”. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, was there and I am sure that he will tell us how the Prime Minister’s view on this topic was received. If we want to become a stronger trading nation, we should invest strategically in the inbound and outbound mobility of students. If we want strong diplomatic ties, we should lead with our acknowledged advantage in education where, through co-operation with us, other countries can raise their own performance.
I hope that the Prime Minister’s recent visit to India will have helped her to see this old issue in a new light and no longer with the isolationism of the Home Office. She must respond to the long-term needs of our economy and not the short-term pressures of politics if she is to steer a course successfully through what are now very turbulent waters.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, on introducing this debate this afternoon but already we are beginning to get into a situation where it is almost déjà vu all over again. This time last week, we were in debate on the impact of Brexit on higher education research; two weeks ago, it was on the impact of Brexit on free trade. Many of the issues are very similar. At the end of last week’s debate the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, said, “I have thrown away my notes because everything has already been said”. I am only the third speaker this afternoon and many of the things that I was going to say have indeed already been said, so I will endeavour not to duplicate too much. There is clearly a huge convergence among Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and, I suspect, Cross-Benchers about the importance of higher education to the United Kingdom economy.
There is also convergence on questions about why the Home Office finds students and higher education so difficult. My suggestion in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is that the Prime Minister is perhaps the answer herself. In the previous Government my understanding is that BIS, as it was then, was absolutely committed to the importance of higher education while the department was led by Vince Cable—a Liberal Democrat but with David Willetts, now the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, at his side. They understood it as a major export for the United Kingdom and the person who disagreed was one Theresa May, when she was Home Secretary. Can the Minister tell us whether the Prime Minister and the current Home Secretary now really understand the importance of higher education to UK plc?
Before I continue, I must declare my standard interest. I am employed by the University of Cambridge, where I teach in the Department of Politics and International Studies. We have an MPhil and I am responsible for a part-time degree in international relations; they both have many international students. I am a graduate tutor at my Cambridge college; again, it has many international students, all of whom come with their own experiences of the process of applying to Cambridge. It is one of the top universities in the world and we are, rightly, proud of it. I am sure that if the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, would like some additional responses from universities then the University of Cambridge would be only too happy to oblige with briefings and meetings.
However, even at a university such as Cambridge, which is understood by UKBA to have the appropriate criteria and highly trusted status for visas, the students who want to come there have huge difficulties getting through the visa process. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, pointed out that things may have got better for the universities but for individual candidates that may not be the case. The cost of applying for a British visa is much higher when compared with a US visa. The bureaucracy in getting a British visa is much more complicated. If you were in a third country and thinking, “Shall I go to a world-leading university in the US or shall I go to the United Kingdom?”, the answer, if you were not passionate about coming to the UK, is often that it would be much easier to go to the United States. Is that really the message which the Government want to send out?
If the message of Brexit, and that of the Government saying “We will make a success of Brexit”, is about going global then surely higher education is among the most obvious places to go. Higher education is a major global export and there are huge opportunities for universities and colleges to export further and have more international students. But that will rely on the Government thinking again about how visas are dealt with in-country, and about whether students should really be part of immigration numbers.
One of the easiest ways to take down the immigration numbers would be to acknowledge that the vast majority of people who come as students to the United Kingdom are here temporarily. They are not coming to drain our resources but contributing to our economy. At the moment, according to the Russell group, £10 billion a year comes from international students—about the same amount of money that we currently pay into the European Union. We tend to think of that as quite a lot of money. The money from students could be increased but only if the UK looks as if it is open for business. Can the Minister tell us whether the Government will look again at the immigration statistics?
In the context of Brexit, EU nationals are treated at present in the same way as home students. I understand that the Minister will not give us a running commentary on negotiations but can she at least tell us whether the Government are willing to think liberally and openly about how we keep open the market for EU and EEA nationals who want to come to the United Kingdom? Our economy, our culture and our soft power all depend on it. As the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, pointed out, many leaders have been educated here. Those links that go back to university or to Sandhurst are hugely important for international relations in generations now and to come. The UK can benefit hugely, but only if the Government send out the right signal.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for securing this debate on such an important subject for our universities, higher education institutions and research institutes. I want mainly to talk about the benefits to the UK of overseas students, but first I shall comment on the inclusion of students in the migration statistics, which has already been referred to. Of the total migration figures for the year ending March 2016, 26% were students. That is a fact of which I was unaware and, I suspect, most of the public are unaware. Yet surveys show that the public do not regard students as migrants. They do not compete for jobs or deprive our citizens of employment. Is it not time when publicising migration statistics at least to identify that proportion of the figure for net migration which comprises students, accurately to reflect the reality and to allay some concerns?
It is much more important to recognise the huge benefits these students confer on UK plc. Several references have already been made to them. Providing study opportunities for overseas students is surely one of the most cost-effective ways we can exert international influence, discharge our international development responsibilities, enrich our scientific and cultural diversity and quality, gain substantial short-term income and create longer-term and enduring economic benefit for the UK.
I shall consider three of these issues in a little more detail. First, international students directly contribute income to higher education and research institutes through their fees: more than £4 billion in 2015 alone. They also contribute to the wider economy through their off-campus spending. In 2012, that was estimated to be worth more than £7 billion spread throughout the UK. International students significantly strengthen our university departments and courses, especially in vital STEM subjects which might otherwise be economically unviable, and they underpin our centres of excellence in specific areas of international interest. As someone who has worked in two British centres of excellence—in international human health at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and in international animal health at the Centre for Tropical Veterinary Medicine at the University of Edinburgh—I am acutely aware of this. Parallels exist in many other institutions in science, technology, sociology and the humanities.
The sustainability of these institutions not only serves an international good but is enlightened self-interest. We live in a shrinking world, and today’s problems overseas can become our problems tomorrow. In the field of human and animal disease, we have seen this in recent years with SARS, Zika, dengue and Ebola, and in a veterinary context we face the continuous threat of foot and mouth disease, blue-tongue and Schmallenberg, and lots of exotically named diseases such as lumpy skin disease are knocking at the door. To protect our nation’s health, human and animal, we need our national capability in these areas, and overseas students are vital in helping to ensure that.
Secondly, the education of international students aids economic development, helps reduce the burden of disease overseas and, by enhancing well-being and economic development, ultimately reduces some of the major reasons people need to migrate in the first place.
Thirdly, as has been said, by educating the brightest and best from overseas, those who will become leaders in their own countries, we establish a cadre of UK alumni who for their lifetime owe a debt of gratitude and loyalty to the UK that will be repaid in countless ways and benefit us as an international trading and research-led economy.
We thus benefit from a triple whammy. Overseas students enrich our institutions, their own country’s development and our long-term political, scientific and economic future. Furthermore, the public do not even consider these students as immigrants. It would be foolish for us to inhibit these colossal benefits, and we are already losing out to competitor countries which welcome overseas students and still foster this role, such as Canada and Australia and even the US. On the contrary, we should actively seek and encourage international students, especially from Africa, Asia and South America, where we wish to expand relationships and trade.
I would like the UK to use more of our admirable commitment to devoting 0.7% of gross national income to international development for this purpose. What steps are Her Majesty’s Government taking to increase the number of overseas students by providing more scholarships for them to study at our world-class institutions?
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for securing the time to have this important debate. I begin by declaring several interests: as a governor of Winchester University and as visitor to the Oxford colleges of New College, Magdalene, Corpus Christi, Trinity and St John’s.
Universities have always been centres of wisdom and learning: places filled with global-minded people, where political, cultural and geographical boundaries are transcended for the common good. The value of studying abroad is unquestionable. How would scholarship look today if St Augustine had been unable to complete his studies due to visa complications? Would we have heard of Thomas Aquinas if he had been turned back at the French border? Finally, would,
“the world is everything that is the case”,
still be the case if Ludwig Wittgenstein had been asked to produce a study permit on arriving in Britain? Perhaps it is natural that these figures come to mind to me, a bishop in the Church of England and a member of a global community of faith. The point I wish to emphasise especially is that in a modern world, where talk of globalisation and internationalism is constant, our universities should be at the centre of co-operation between nations, whether that be through scientific, artistic, intellectual or cultural endeavours, all of which help us to develop our understanding of the world around us and of our shared humanity.
There are more than 400,000 overseas students in the UK—almost one in five students. However, it is not simply a matter of numbers, it is also about the positive impact which international students have on the communities in which they study. I am sure many of your Lordships are aware that in a recent survey conducted by Universities UK, eight out of 10 respondents agreed that international students have a positive impact on local economies and towns in which they study. Of those asked, 75% said that they would like to see the same number, or more, of international students in the UK. That figure jumped to 87% once information on the economic benefits of international students was provided. Although we acknowledge the economic and soft-power arguments, we believe that allowing institutions to speak the common language of learning is a higher priority in relation to university education. After all, the best universities are international communities of scholars. Given this tremendous contribution, I urge the Government to maintain the international quality that is still found in UK universities.
However, there are some early indicators of concern. For example, international student numbers are beginning to fall. The number of Indian first-year enrolments at UK universities fell by 10%—from 11,270 in 2014 to 10,125 a year later. We would hope to see EU students take up this additional capacity but, unfortunately, one of the Oxford colleges I visit has seen a 9% drop in EU student applications this year already. Another college said that it could not exist without them. A decline in the number of overseas students will not be in the interests of the British people, who mostly see them as a positive force, and will slowly undermine the quality of our university education.
Above all, let us see if we can ensure a new era of student mobility which cherishes the contribution made by our international students and helps keep our universities as true centres of wisdom and learning.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester, who mingled wit and wisdom in his wise comments to us.
The Motion that my noble friend Lord Lucas has enabled us to debate today, with our manifest gratitude, covers both universities and colleges. I shall comment from the perspective of colleges, and indeed schools, in the independent sector, where large numbers of overseas students have been educated with skill and success for many years.
I declare my interest as president of the Independent Schools Association, the ISA, one of a number of bodies that comprise the Independent Schools Council, of which I am a former general secretary. The ISA works on behalf of some 400 schools, generally small in size, committed to keeping their fees as low as possible and to increasing means-tested bursaries, and fully integrated with their local communities. They feature hardly at all in the interminable stock controversies about independent education, which revolve chiefly around a small number of so-called public schools.
I am also president of the Council for Independent Education, CIFE, which brings together a group of 20 leading private sixth-form colleges. They focus on A-levels, exam success and excellent pastoral care. At least 15,000 international students have passed successfully through CIFE colleges on their way to UK universities in the last 10 years. The colleges mingle great talents and different cultures, enriching our own country and other nations.
It will perhaps come as little surprise to your Lordships that in these schools and colleges there is unanimous opposition to the inclusion of overseas students in the official immigration figures. On this central issue, the voice of our universities has been heard loudly and clearly but the voice of independent schools and colleges is no less emphatic. The arguments are well-known in your Lordships’ House—indeed, they are being restated in this debate—and I will not take up time by repeating them. Suffice it to say that the current arrangements impede recruitment and damage the reputation of our country as a place that is both open and welcoming to overseas students.
It ought surely to be a fundamental objective of any Government to assist the continuing success of our country’s private education sector in recruiting overseas. Its schools and colleges are world leaders, earning significant foreign exchange and promoting British cultural and democratic values worldwide. But with the reverberations of Brexit stirring concern about our country’s future across the globe, Britain’s independent schools and colleges are increasingly conscious of the difficulties that they face because of our current stringent immigration study requirements. Our English-speaking competitors in the international market are not slow to seek progress at our expense, stressing their greater openness and easier entry requirements. This was brought home to a CIFE college principal on a recent visit to Nigeria: Canada, he was told, was now seen as more attractive than the UK.
Serious concern has arisen in particular because the processes through which overseas students have to pass have become increasingly onerous and, in their application, a source of increasing anxiety to schools and colleges because stiff penalties are now being imposed, often in a seemingly arbitrary fashion, for minor paperwork errors. Britain’s schools and colleges today are subject to stringent regulatory oversight. There is no complaint to be made about that, but very minor infractions of regulations are now being reported by the inspectorate to UKVI, which in turn is liable to impose heavy sanctions on schools and colleges sponsoring students under the tier 4 route. Sanctions include the reduction of what are known as “confirmation of acceptance for studies” numbers to zero. That can threaten the very existence of schools and colleges with a significant proportion of overseas students.
A litany of complaints from schools and colleges about decisions by UKVI, many of them apparently arbitrary in character, has reached the ISA’s chief executive, my colleague Mr Neil Roskilly. When information is sought from UKVI it is often slow in coming—a point made by my noble friend Lord Lucas. The introduction of yet more regulations, particularly those which require students to apply for visas more frequently, is compounding the problem. I will, if I may, let the Minister have a dossier of the difficulties experienced by independent schools and colleges to bring home to the Government the reality of what is happening.
At the heart of so many of the problems faced by independent colleges and schools lies the tier 4 entry route. It needs to be reviewed with the simple aim of ensuring that the requirements it imposes are not more onerous than those that exist in other countries that are in competition with us. Having done that, the Government should monitor carefully the way they are applied to secure consistency, common sense and fairness.
My Lords, it is after two months of listening and attempting to learn that I utter my first words in your Lordships’ House. In that time, I have been grateful for the warmth of the welcome that I have received from so many on all sides in here, not least from my sponsors, my noble friends Lady Kennedy of The Shaws and Lady Lawrence of Clarendon, and my mentor, my noble friend Lord Dubs—great internationalists all three. Having been a regular visitor, in my case first—dare I say it—as a Home Office lawyer, and then as a human rights campaigner over 20 years does not necessarily make for a less daunting migration, so I am especially grateful for the constant kindness and wisdom of all the staff who make this place work so well.
In recent tumultuous months, I have also found the civility of discourse in this Chamber to be in sharp contrast with what goes on outside it, whether in our country, continent or wider, troubled world. Would that more of your Lordships’ reasoned debate on even the most difficult of questions might escape these walls and take root elsewhere; I have no doubt that all humanity would benefit in the turbulent times ahead.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for the opportunity to make a maiden speech on immigration policy and higher education. I declare an interest as the chancellor of the University of Essex, the former chancellor of Oxford Brookes University and an honorary professor at the University of Manchester and the London School of Economics, among a number of other higher education connections and affiliations over the years. Like so many of your Lordships, I owe every life chance that brings me here to a wonderful British education—including, in my case, a legal education that was free up to degree level and even supported by a full maintenance grant.
For the daughter of migrants to this country—real ones, wonderful people—that education was key, as was the opportunity while at university to rub along with students and teachers from all over the world. Higher education has no borders and, as so many noble Lords put it so eloquently two weeks ago in the debate initiated by my noble friend Lord Soley, an academy that has borders imposed on it simply cannot thrive, let alone maintain its world-class status.
As just one example, the University of Essex is a destination of choice for students within the European Union and is consistently in the top five UK universities for recruitment of non-UK EU students. We are proud to be placed 21st in the world in the Times Higher Education world university rankings for international outlook. That is a measure of the proportion of international students and staff and the volume of scientific papers co-authored with academics from outside the UK. Of our entire student population, 14.4% are non-UK EU students, and to lose them completely would reduce our fee income by 13%, or £17.5 million a year. Reductions of this order, if not matched by an additional intake of non-EU students, would cause major detriment to the university’s sustainability and ongoing ability to contribute nearly £500 million a year to the local and regional economy.
Across the United Kingdom, universities support over 170,000 jobs in local communities and contribute more than £10.7 billion annually to the UK economy. But the effect on UK universities of blocking overseas students and academics cannot be measured in monetary value alone. To echo the noble Lord, Lord Trees, in this shrinking interconnected world both educational experience and research strength are increasingly measured by internationalism. So to diminish the diversity of UK campuses would be to encourage an exodus of student, research and teaching talent from our shores. Given the need for people to invest in their education and plan their working lives in cycles of several years, this danger arises even with perceptions that the UK might become a less welcoming academic environment as a result of Brexit or student immigration policy, or even political rhetoric alone.
International students are visitors, not migrants. They do not take places from young people in the UK, but rather enrich their learning and their lives. When they leave, they often—not always, of course—become instinctive ambassadors for Britain and the democratic values we seek to preserve and promote around the globe. Further, if some go on to live and work here in the future, that is also, I would argue, to the good of academy, economy and society alike.
Your Lordships need no reminding that this House can seem strange to those outside it—even in this country, let alone far beyond. Yet I have seen it bring enormous value and patient scrutiny to the legislative process, not least in defence of rights, freedoms and the rule of law. That role is, no doubt, an enormous primary responsibility, but in difficult times there may be others besides. One could surely be to unite in reminding those who campaigned for and against leaving the European Union that, for all its bitterness, none in that debate argued for disengagement with the world. Such disengagement is especially impossible in education. Britain cannot be open for business if it is not first open for learning.
My Lords, it is a real pleasure to follow my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti, and to be the first to congratulate her on her truly excellent speech. Of course I knew it would be excellent: she has extraordinary experience, expertise and energy, and I am delighted that she is sitting on the red Benches on this side of the Chamber. I have known Shami since the heady days of the Labour Government, and we had some rather interesting discussions about our policies at that time, when I was in the Cabinet—your Lordships will recall debates about the 42 days—but we never fell out over those things. She is a consummate professional—to such an extent that when she was director of Liberty no one really knew what her politics were, quite rightly. Indeed, a noble Lord said to me a couple of days ago that he had been convinced that she would be in the Lords some day soon, but that she would be on the Conservative Benches. Well, their loss is certainly our huge gain.
It could be said that my noble friend has had a baptism of fire, which I deeply regret, but as in so many of her past battles she has come through unscathed, and is relishing her new responsibilities as shadow Attorney-General. With her passion for human rights, justice, equality and social justice she is a tremendous addition to our Benches, and I know that she will make a great contribution to the work of your Lordships’ House.
I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for securing this very important debate, and I start by declaring my interest as pro-vice-chancellor of the University of Bath, where we celebrate the contribution of our international and diverse body of students and academics. I am immensely proud of the research undertaken by taught and PhD students as well as postdocs, many of them from outside the UK, which is enabling our country and the world to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
At a time of global uncertainty, when our relationship with the EU is diminished and we are refocusing our relationship with the rest of the world, the soft power at which we have excelled for decades has assumed a greater importance. Encouraging and welcoming foreign students to the UK is one of the most effective ways of garnering and sustaining that soft power. As Prime Minister Modi said on our Prime Minister’s recent visit to India,
“education is vital for our students and will define our engagement in a shared future”.
We can all cite individual examples of people studying in the UK who in their future lives and careers have prioritised a relationship with the UK but, as we have heard, the statistics are staggering. The international education sector is one of the biggest service exports, and one that has significant growth potential. It is also well placed to help our universities weather the implications of Brexit. So why have the Government developed policies to further restrict the number of international students based on what I would call a fictitious number of students who do not leave the UK at the end of their studies? The IPPR recently provided an excellent analysis of the situation, which was followed by further revelations in the press. I hope that today the Minister will use this debate to release the data seen by the Times that indicate that a very small number of international students overstay. So much for evidence-based policies.
The Government also seem to ignore the evidence from a poll carried out by Universities UK that the majority of people do not view international students as immigrants—clear evidence that a more restrictive policy is unlikely to assuage public concerns on migration. As with our main competitors in the international education sphere, Canada, Australia and the US, students should be classified as temporary rather than permanent migrants and should not be subject to a target. My noble friend called them “visitors”, and I think that that is quite right.
One of the key recommendations in the excellent IPPR report, Destination Education: Reforming Migration Policy on International Students to Grow the UK’s Vital Education Exports, was that, like Australia, the UK should set out a 10-year plan for expanding its education sector as part of its industrial strategy and that, as part of that plan, the Government should reintroduce the post-study work visa for STEM and nursing graduates. That makes complete common sense, and I would be grateful for the Minister’s view, especially in light of the expected announcement by the Chancellor in the Autumn Statement that there will be a significant investment in infrastructure spending which will create a vast number of engineering jobs, at a time when we already have far too few engineers to meet demand. There is also a looming crisis with regard to nurses. Dame Julie Moore, chief executive of University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust and Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust has recently said that some of her staff from the EU and Ireland want to go home because of the uncertainties of Brexit and the racist abuse. I can say that it is the same for hospitals in Gloucestershire.
The number of international students coming to the UK has fallen over the last six years, while global demand has grown 60% since 2007 according to the OECD. Our competitors are having a field day—and why would they not? The Prime Minister says, and no doubt the Minister will repeat, that Britain is attracting the brightest and the best, but is that really true and will it continue, especially with Brexit and the uncertainties that surround every aspect of economic life? It is absolutely clear that the Government’s new policy on international students, announced by the Home Secretary and driven in large part by their objective of reducing net migration to tens of thousands, will cause further unnecessary harm to individual universities, FE colleges and our education sector as a whole. It will also harm the economic and cultural vibrancy of the university towns and cities. It simply does not make economic sense to provide additional barriers to attracting international students, and we should not forget the societal and cultural loss that we would suffer. In the globalised world of the 21st century, we must equip our students to be citizens of the world, which means studying alongside international students. With the future of EU student recruitment at UK universities uncertain, and with UCAS figures showing a 9% decrease in applications so far this year, how will the Government communicate that all students from outside the UK are still welcome here?
It is clear that the policies of fear rather than pragmatism are driving immigration policy, which is having many perverse and adverse effects, especially on our higher and further education sector. We have outstanding universities and colleges which make a vital economic and social contribution to our country and enhance our reputation in the world—a reputation that has been severely dented by Brexit. We say that we are proud to be an outward-looking, open and welcoming country, but the policies pursued in relation to overseas students and immigration tell a different story. It does not have to be like this and I have no doubt that the message from your Lordships’ House today will be loud and clear—asking the Government to think again. I hope that they do so and that they not only rethink their new proposals but take the bold decision to remove from the immigration target the international students who are welcomed by the vast majority of our fellow citizens.
My Lords, I first congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, on her very thoughtful contribution in her maiden speech. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for giving us the opportunity to ask the Government to explain their policy which, as he said, is a complete mess and is losing the UK market share, when overseas students should be central to government thinking.
I agree entirely with the noble Lord and others that counting overseas students as part of net migration figures is a mistake. But there is an underlying conflict in government policy. There was a commitment in the November 2015 spending review to expand international student numbers, and a target of reaching a £30 billion education export figure for non-EU students by 2020. A crucial sentence from the spending review states:
“The number of students from outside the EU at English universities is expected to rise by 55,000, worth more than £1 billion, by 2020”.
There is no sign of this being achieved. It would require around 20% growth when, currently, numbers are broadly static. But the Government also have a target to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands from the current 300,000 and, as we know, they are counting students as part of the total number. They should cease to count them. Can the Minister explain how the commitment to increase the number of overseas students will be delivered given, first, the current malfunctioning of the visa regime and, secondly, the continued obsession with counting overseas students as part of net migration figures when they should not be?
Our country has justifiably earned a reputation as a destination of choice for international students. We have been the second most attractive destination after the USA, with 10.3% of all international students worldwide. We risk losing that reputation through illogical constraints on the issuing of visas. Already, since 2010, some 875 bogus colleges have had their licences to bring international students to the UK revoked. That must be a huge help in achieving the Government’s objectives and should not be used to restrict responsible universities from maximising their recruitment overseas when it is in our national interest that they do so.
This debate, as we have heard, relates to our standing in the world. Our approach is not understood and it is damaging our reputation. It is also damaging the future potential growth of our economy because, in addition to our international graduates acting as ambassadors for the UK and the universities from which they graduate, those who stay create businesses or may work in shortage areas. We need them to succeed if our economy is to thrive post-Brexit. We also need to recognise that the viability of courses for UK students may be in question if overseas student fees are not underpinning them financially. Overseas students sustain many strategically important courses: for example, 28% of engineering and technology undergraduates and 18% of mathematics undergraduates are international students.
Then there is the impact of lower numbers on local economies. In the north-east of England, at the universities of Durham, Newcastle, Northumbria and Sunderland combined, there are more than 12,000 non-EU students from more than 100 countries, all of whom make a valuable contribution to university and city life. According to the 2014 UUK report on the economic impact of universities, the north-east’s international revenue amounted to £244 million in 2011-12. This, together with the estimated £213 million off-campus expenditure of international students, represented a total in export earnings of £457 million at that time. It is estimated that this figure today amounts to some £600 million—and, of course, those international students sustain several thousand jobs across the region. There is also the critical issue of the impact of lower numbers on university income. Tuition fee income from non-EU students makes up 13% of all income for higher education institutions and 29% of all tuition fee income, even though overseas students represent only 14% of all students.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, twice posed the question: what is the problem to which government policy is the answer? These are critical issues. I very much hope that the Minister will be able to give us a clear answer to that question.
My Lords, I came to the UK as a student from India as a 19 year-old in the early 1980s. Our universities here are the best in the world, along with those of the United States. The university that has won more Nobel Prizes than any other is the University of Cambridge, with nearly 100. I am the third generation of my family to be educated here and now our elder son is at a British university—Cambridge—so that is the fourth generation. I am proud to be chancellor of the University of Birmingham and chair of the advisory board of the Cambridge Judge Business School. I am also president of the UK Council for International Student Affairs, UKCISA, representing the 450,000 international students in this country, along with 160,000 from the EU.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for initiating this debate at this crucial time. Our higher education is, of course, vital to our economy. It is one of our biggest exports. International students contribute directly and indirectly £14 billion to our economy and support 137,000 full-time equivalent jobs. As the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, said in her excellent maiden speech, they also enrich the experience of our domestic students. Our international students go on to become world leaders. At any time there are 30 world leaders from British universities, including former US presidents. Dr Manmohan Singh, a former Prime Minister of India, went to both Oxford and Cambridge.
What is more, a study carried out in the United States found that of all patents registered at the country’s top 10 patent-generating universities, 76% had a foreign-born inventor. Google, after all, was created by an immigrant. Silicon Valley is littered with foreign student success stories. What chance do we have of emulating that here? Higher education has always been a thoroughly international affair. As we have heard, research has never recognised international boundaries and diversity is recognised for contributing to new ideas and a divergent way of thinking. Thirty per cent of academics at our top universities, including Oxford, Cambridge and Birmingham, are foreign. Professor Alice Gast of Imperial College said:
“Foreigners improve the creativity and productivity of home-grown talent, too”.
The number of university students looking to study abroad is growing vastly. It is expected to grow from 4.1 million to 8 million by 2025. The UK has the second-highest number of them after the United States: 10% as against 19%. But the Government’s attitude to international students has seen our rivals steal a march on us. As the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, said, I was in India when Prime Minister Theresa May was there. She did not mention higher education once in her speech. As the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, said, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on the other hand, spoke of the importance of education to Indian students. By the way, our Prime Minister did not once meet the 35 university leaders who were on the delegation to India. On the other hand, our Universities Minister Jo Johnson is a true champion of our British universities.
Australia, Canada and the United States all have strategies to increase the number of international students. Canada aims to double their number by 2020, while Australia wants to increase international students to 720,000 by 2025. In fact, the former Australian Education Minister Christopher Pyne went so far as to thank Britain for its immigration policies because they are driving so many students to Australia’s universities.
That applies not only to English-speaking universities. Indian students are now going to Holland, Sweden, Germany and France. France has a target of doubling the number of Indian students by 2020. The UK Government say that they want to increase the number of international students but there is no specific target. The Prime Minister, when she was Home Secretary, said that she wanted international students to leave the day they graduated. The headline in Indian newspapers was:
“Come to the UK: Graduate, and then get the hell out!”.
The Government have spoken of increasing education exports from £18 billion to £30 billion but there is no specific target and no plan to change the visa rules. The post-study work visa route, which I personally championed in this House in 2007 when the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, was Education Minister, was implemented and the numbers went up significantly. It was taken away in 2012 and we have seen the effect on the number of foreign students. At the moment you can stay on and work but, with so much bureaucracy, it is very difficult to get a job after graduating. Can the Minister tell us how many foreign students are now staying on under the postgraduate work visa scheme that currently exists?
On the other hand, in the United States students can stay on for 12 months without a job offer; Canada allows them to remain in the country for the same duration as the length of their study; and Australia allows graduates to remain in the country for between two and four years. In surveys, the British public overwhelmingly say that they do not mind at all if foreign students stay on and work. There is no downside to it. It helps them to pay for their education; it gives them work experience; they contribute taxes; and they build generation-long bridges with this country. With this in mind, it is no wonder that the number of non-EU students has dropped by 2% and that the number from India has halved in the last four years, while in America it has increased by 9%—and the fastest-growing group of foreign students in America is the group from India, whose number is up by almost 25%.
As we have heard, the Government refuse to remove international students from the net migration figures. Can the Minister assure us that the Government will look into this? It would send a signal that they do not treat international students as immigrants. We desperately need the 160,000 EU students to come and study here in the UK. Can the Government tell us the plans for these students if we leave the European Union?
I think that the Government are being led by a mistaken belief that the British people want to reduce all immigration. There is good immigration and bad immigration, and international students should be encouraged. Almost 80% of the British population want international students to stay on and work in the UK after they finish their studies. The rhetoric surrounding Brexit is just awful. On the other hand, I hear from my colleagues at American universities that Indian graduates go on to earn salaries of $80,000 in Texas and $100,000 in California. Here, it is claimed that 90,000 students overstay. This is based on International Passenger Survey data and it is bogus. We should have visible exit checks at our borders. Can the Minister tell us when we are going to introduce them? The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, mentioned an unpublished report referred to in the Times which shows that only 1.5% of international students stay on.
In conclusion, India was the jewel in the crown of the British Empire. Today, British universities are the jewel in the crown of this country. The Government need to change their attitude towards international students, because the impact of Brexit and the uncertainty it has caused are damaging the higher education sector, and the Government’s attitude is harmful and undermining. I think that the attitude to immigration is economically illiterate and that the Government’s attitude to international students is economically super-illiterate. If the Government change their attitude, we will remain an educational superpower for the foreseeable future, with international students being our strongest element of soft power in the world.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Lucas for initiating this debate on such an important subject. The only problem with the debate is that we all agree with each other, and I certainly agree with most of what has been said.
I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, on her excellent and inspiring maiden speech. She comes to the House with a huge reputation as an advocate of civil liberties in this country and abroad. This House is surely enormously strengthened by having as a Member somebody with her experience and knowledge. She is very welcome here.
I declare an interest as a former chairman of King’s College London. Having served there for nine years, I know well the importance of foreign students at so many of the leading universities in this country, perhaps particularly in London. The problem, of course, is that students are included in the immigration statistics. Those who voted for Brexit and those who are concerned about immigration do not, on the whole, consider students to be immigrants, and even if they do, they are not particularly concerned about student immigrants. Like other noble Lords, I urge the Minister, whom I much admire, to try to persuade the Home Secretary to take students out of the immigration figures.
If the Government really do want to get immigration down to below 100,000, that will be completely impossible if students continue to be counted. I have heard the Government’s response that it is not possible to take students out of the immigration figures because all countries are required to use the United Nations definition of an immigrant: a person who comes to a country with the intention of staying for more than 12 months. However, the United States of America apparently has found a way round this. It produces two sets of figures: one based on the United Nations definition and one prepared by the Department of Homeland Security, which makes the distinction between permanent and temporary immigrants. Would it not be sensible for this country to try to do something similar?
As has been mentioned, only a year ago it was government policy to try to increase international student numbers by 20% over the next few years. The numbers are now starting to fall and this is mainly because of visa and immigration problems. My main concern is that there have been a number of intimations from government that overseas students are not welcome in the United Kingdom. Far from discouraging students, we should be encouraging overseas students. Various figures have been suggested, but non-EU students pay in excess of £4 billion a year to British universities. Universities are an important service industry to this country.
Britain has 32 universities in the top 200 in the world. This compares with 62 in the United States, a country with five times the population of our own, 22 in Germany and only four in France. The fact is that in this country we do universities very well, and we should be very proud of that. We should recognise the contribution that UK universities make to the country and to the economy, both financially and academically. Tens of thousands of students from India and China want to come here but we are losing market share because it is more difficult to get a visa to come here than, for instance, to the United States.
We all know that in the past, student visas were granted for study at educational establishments that were not approved colleges or universities. Clearly, there must be a rigorous standard set for students to come here, and only students coming to study at recognised institutions should be given a visa. But we are competing with other countries to attract the best students and it should be no more difficult to come here than it is to go to the United States, Canada or Australia, to take three examples.
In conclusion, it is clear that noble Lords in all parts of this House are asking the Home Secretary and her Ministers to re-evaluate the immigration policy as it pertains to students. The students do not have to come here, and the best will go elsewhere if we do not make it easier for them. We should recognise that it is in the interests of this country for them to study here. Most who do will go home with a higher opinion of this country and it is in our national interest to get this right.
My Lords, I chair Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, which is one of the four great conservatoires in London. Perhaps the proudest moment in my time as chair was in June when Radio 3 broadcast live three of our finest pianists from St John’s Smith Square—three of a very fine crop. Noble Lords should note the names because they will hear them again: Giulio Potenza, Gen Li and Jenna Sung. They should also note that those are not English names. Indeed, they are not English: Giulio is from Italy. Gen is from China and Jenna from South Korea.
Of our students, 111 are international, which is 10% of our student body. Each brings us £15,000 to £20,000 a year, and it is not possible financially simply to replace them with British students because an extra British student would yield only £9,000 to us under the current fee regulations. But they bring something more important than money. They bring talent, which raises standards all round. They bring cultural diversity: music is an international language, but it has many accents. They bring determination: it is not nothing to move halfway around the world in the pursuit of your chosen vocation. They also bring reach to Britain abroad, which may last for many years. Why is the House debating this issue this afternoon? Why is it not a no-brainer? Let us face it and be honest: we are debating it because the Government seem half inclined to chop this flourishing tree off at its roots.
I will concentrate on students from outside Europe if only because I spoke on Brexit and students last week. Three out of every four students come from outside the European Union. The threat to them is real, too. The Government have them in their sights. The Prime Minister has long opposed taking them out of the immigration numbers, as we have heard in this debate, although only a quarter of the public think that they should be regarded as immigrants. Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, singled them out for some remarks in her conference speech although to be fair she has also said a few positive things about international students.
It is not only about what the Government think or even what they say: it is a question of what the world and its most talented individuals hear. The world sees a country that has voted for Brexit, where there have been troubling instances of immigrants being hassled in the streets and now sees a country that is adding a thickening bureaucracy, which makes applying for student visas more problematical and which is toying with adding new barriers. Is this really, as they say, to improve quality or is it just a cheap and easy way to cut the number of immigrants?
There is another obstacle. What happens to students when they finish their courses? Many of the students at Trinity Laban would like to continue their music and dance careers in Britain. Already they face an obstacle in that their earnings are not high, but to stay in a job here beyond a year, a student has to show that he or she will earn £20,800 a year or more, which is not easy for a young jobbing musician. The Government seem to be contemplating making things even harder in terms of getting a job. Ministers have gone around brandishing ludicrous overestimates of overstaying—the Times leak put the true figure at less than 1%. I cannot help noticing that I get pleas from time to time from young ensembles that find their lead violinist or cellist is being denied a visa and so their career and planned engagements are being cut short.
To sum up, if we put off overseas students, my establishment, Trinity Laban, will suffer. If we lost all our international students our revenues would fall by more than £2 million, which is probably by around 10%, and that would be very bad. South-east London, where we are situated, would suffer. Our international students alone bring some £5 million to the local economy, which is not a strong one in a very diverse area, and of course Britain will suffer. In financial terms, according to the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, international students contribute some £7 billion to Britain’s economy and they are the second largest net contributor to Britain’s balance of payments. But it is not the financial benefits, important though they are, that make me so nervous about this threat to the future. It is the threat that cultural chauvinism will replace international diversity. Globalisation no doubt has its pros and cons, but one incontestable pro is the vitality it brings to intellectual and cultural endeavour. We put that at risk at our peril.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for initiating this debate, but I think my contribution to it may be slightly different from that of some of the previous speakers. I am sure that the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, will be glad of that. I should first of course declare an interest as chairman of Migration Watch, unpaid of course, and I think I should say from the outset that while I am strongly opposed to mass immigration I am firmly in favour of a moderate level of immigration, and that surely is a natural part of an open society and an open economy. So I readily join with noble Lords, all of them in fact, who have spoken of the value of foreign students to our economy and our universities, and as “ambassadors” for the UK on their return. I have met them myself all over the world. Indeed, there is very little in what noble Lords have actually said in the debate with which I would disagree.
But most of the arguments that have been made fall to the ground if the students concerned do not return home, and that is where the issue lies. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, asked what the problem is with that, so perhaps I can help. The problem is the elephant in the room. The elephant is that the system—and we must recognise it—for the admission of students to the UK is in recovery mode. Some noble Lords will remember that following the introduction of the points-based system by the previous Government in, I think, 2008, student visas shot up from 230,000 a year to 300,000 in one year. Indeed, in late 2009 consulates in the Indian subcontinent and China had to be closed to student applications for several months. A review conducted by the National Audit Office in 2012 found that, in 2009 alone, between 40,000 and 50,000 students had entered the UK for work rather than study, as it put it rather delicately. In other words, there was massive abuse that in the longer term could only be damaging to our reputation as a source of education. Fortunately the Government have clamped down on it; I recognise that. To a certain extent this is ancient history, but it illustrates the pressures that can so quickly develop in the system. As one noble Lord mentioned, 850 bogus colleges have been closed down. But that is the background which cannot be ignored, and it seems to be the reason that underlies the Government’s policy, which we definitely support.
Despite that chequered but important history, the present regime for foreign students is actually a generous one. There is no limit on the number of genuine students—I stress the word “genuine”. There is no cap on those who wish to switch to work provided that it is graduate work and that they earn £21,000 a year. So I have to say that I am rather surprised by the continuing barrage of negative publicity about the offer that the UK gives to foreign students. It is not coming from the Government and it is certainly not coming from Migration Watch. It appears to be coming from the sector itself, but that is surely damaging to its own interests. As the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, mentioned, perceptions are very important. If all people hear is constant complaints from every academic in human history, they will think that something is seriously wrong. Would it not be much better for the sector to emphasise the positives of our offer and, where there are problems, to sort them out privately and quietly with the Government, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, suggested?
Underlying this is a disconcertingly wide gap between the inflow and outflow of students as measured by the International Passenger Survey—if that is correct. The average inflow for the past four years has been 127,000 and the average outflow 47,000, so there are 80,000 students a year over those four years for whom there is no evidence of departure—there is no doubt about that much. That is a huge number; it is about a third of all non-EU migration. It is quite possible that the exit checks that have just been installed show that that has been an undercount, but we will see. Rumours of 1% are extremely unlikely—that would mean that the IPS was missing 75,000 students a year, which is hardly possible. The prudent course has to be to await clarification before revising policy in either direction.
At least 10 noble Lords have called for the student numbers to be taken out of the immigration statistics. That is the worst possible route to take. As everyone knows, an international migrant is defined on a basis agreed with the United Nations. That is why all our competitors—yes, all our competitors—include them in their migration statistics. Indeed, it is the key to understanding demographic change and we must not fiddle about with it for other purposes. In any case, it would not work. The press would immediately add in the figures for students and the Government would be perceived as fiddling the figures on a matter of real importance to the public. They are right to rule it firmly out.
There have been a number of calls to widen the scope of post-study work but it is interesting to note that, when it was made a requirement that such work should be at graduate level, the number of foreign students taken in by employers fell from 55,000 in the one year to 6,000 in the next. It seems that industry was not desperate for their services.
I conclude as I began: I favour foreign students, provided that they are genuine. We must make sure that they are. In practice, that will turn on developing the exit checks which are now at a very early stage.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a governor of LSE for 30 years and now an emeritus governor, and as a life member of court at Lancaster University and Newcastle University. I want not for the first time to put on the record my appreciation for the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who introduced this debate. He has a long-standing and highly respected record of deep and informed interest in educational matters.
For me, it is a very special occasion to be able to speak in the same debate as that in which the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, has made her maiden speech. I have been a long-time admirer not just of what she stands for but of her effectiveness in achieving results.
We are at a very interesting moment in our history, because the Higher Education and Research Bill is coming up. I cannot separate consideration of this issue from what we will be considering over the coming months. The question I am sure I will pose again in the context of that debate is, what is a university? We all talk about the operation and organisation of universities, and now we are talking about the relationship of immigration to universities, but what is a university? For me, if a university is not about originality, imagination, vision and scholarship, it is not a university. It is very important for our country to have good vocational training centres, I am sure of that, but that does not make them universities.
My next point is that the inescapable first reality of life is that we are locked into an international community. Unfortunately, not enough of our fellow citizens understand this, but there is simply no way we can have a future as a nation without recognising that international interdependence and making it central to our whole purpose of governance and what we are trying to achieve. If we do not, we are betraying future generations. It is as simple as that, because there is no future for Britain unless we understand that and respond appropriately.
I believe, therefore, that the essence of a university is that it must, by definition, be a representation of the world, particularly when we like to parade such slogans as, “We are a world-class university”. How on earth can a university be world class unless it is a representation of the world? By definition, the quality of our education depends upon the international reality in the university community itself. The research depends upon it, the teaching depends upon it, the student experience depends upon it and the development of student potential depends upon it. It has to be not only intellectually understood but sensed at every level that we are indispensably part of an international community, and we are developing and approaching our learning in that context.
I have rather more hope on that score—and I really have applauded the vision that has been expressed in this debate—than the previous speaker apparently has, but I shall finish on a rather different point. I was very struck by a rather urgent message from the British Medical Association, which I am sure I am not alone in having received. I therefore quote unapologetically from it:
“Medicine thrives on the interchange of experience, knowledge and training across countries and backgrounds. We believe that further restrictions on international medical students coming to the UK through changes in immigration policy will inevitably lead to a consequent decrease in opportunities for UK medical students to study overseas and so limiting opportunities to collaborate and share experience, knowledge and training. We believe this will be detrimental for medicine, patient care and medical research”.
Given that we spend so much time in this place discussing the health service, are we going to take that message seriously? The BMA continues:
“Furthermore, international students who choose to study at a UK medical school are committed to training and working in the NHS and are considered as part of the future NHS workforce by NHS employers. These individuals have been factored into long-term NHS workforce planning and the opportunity to continue postgraduate training in the NHS helps make UK medical schools an attractive option for prospective students”.
The BMA says there is already evidence that the number of people wanting to study medicine here is declining. It makes the point that others have made, which I underline: it is not just a matter of immigration policy; sadly, it is symptomatic of a much bigger issue, which the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, emphasised. What does Britain look like to the world in 2016? What is the image of Britain? If we in this place do not take responsibility for that, I do not know what the hell we are here for.
My Lords, I add my welcome and congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. I declare an interest as a member of Cambridge University, where, in round numbers, 20% of undergraduates and 60% of graduate students are from abroad—from the EU and the rest of the world. The proportions in other universities are not very different. Overall, the UK is second only to the US in attracting foreign students. There is a general consensus in our universities that this is a plus. Rather parochially, for instance, foreign students help sustain specialised courses that would not be viable without them, and our standing in university league tables depends on our universities remaining a magnet for international talent. It is surely a real own goal to discourage the brightest from coming here by vexatious visa requirements and a declared reluctance to let even the brightest stay on afterwards.
Under the coalition Government, as we have heard, there were clearly tensions between BIS, where the key Ministers were mindful of these issues, and the Home Office, where the priority was to cut net immigration. The restrictions generated a damaging perception that the UK was no longer welcoming. It was especially disquieting that the number of Indian students coming here halved in just four years. Students from the subcontinent no longer look towards the UK, as their parents’ generation did. Not only in India but everywhere else, UK-educated students are a big potential component of our soft power. It is a huge benefit when people we deal with around the world are familiar with the UK and have a lifelong network of contacts with this country.
Incidentally, such contacts can be especially valuable when they straddle national barriers where there are tensions or hostilities. A high-level recent instance of this, far from these shores, was the recent nuclear deal with Iran. The Iranian Minister and the US Secretary of Energy had been PhD students together in the same department at MIT. They knew and respected each other. This building of confidence surely eased the path to a difficult agreement. Surely we should promote exchanges globally.
Of course, what is looming large at the moment is the risk that our large-scale exchanges with mainland Europe will be threatened by Brexit. That is depressing because the strengthening of these links, especially in science, has been one of the really positive developments stemming from the EU. Forty years ago, our main scientific exchanges were with the US. I met my European contemporaries because we all went to the US. Now Europe-wide academia is far stronger and more interactive. Fresh graduates migrate from the UK to France, Holland, Germany and Italy, and there is a reverse flow into this country.
In my university there is an especially strong cohort of EU undergraduates, many from Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and other nations with a strong academic tradition. If we did not accept them, they would go to top US universities. Surely we are right to welcome them in this country, not only for what they bring to us but because they help to develop a pan-European community and culture. Indeed, it is well known that the younger generation are more pro-EU than their elders. These students see themselves as Europeans with a shared culture. They hope that our continent can be a progressive political force in a turbulent and multipolar world, where the challenges—be they in energy or climate—cannot be tackled at national level.
Finally, I will highlight two reasons why, even with a supportive visa regime, our universities will face growing challenges. First, the status of English as a world language has long been a benefit to us but this uncovenanted advantage is being eroded by the initiation of courses taught in English in the countries of mainland Europe. These compete with us and if we are perceived as unwelcoming we will lose out to them.
A second important trend is the advent of massive online open courses, known as MOOCs. These have perhaps been somewhat overhyped. The internet can supplement but not replace the undergraduate experience. However, they have a chance of succeeding as stand-alone courses in providing vocational master’s-level courses, taken by highly motivated mature students. Residential courses in, for instance, law and business studies are current money-spinners for universities, so it concerns their budgeteers that the growing availability of MOOCs will reduce the willingness of students to pay for expensive traditional courses. The corollary of this is that universities in this country should not leave MOOCs to the Americans; they should work hard to liaise with the Open University, which has a world lead, to develop these MOOCs so that we can play a part in this growing new market for distance learning.
Even if the winds were otherwise in our favour, there would be problems in sustaining current student levels. The self-imposed handicaps of the Home Office, which aggravate the task of attracting the best students, are therefore especially to be deplored. That is why we should resonate with the concerns expressed by so many speakers today, and thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for initiating this debate.
I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for initiating this really important debate. I want to record a number of relevant interests in my commitment to universities, to teaching and to the importance of education.
If we were to recruit a group of cultural philistines and educational vandals, and send them away for a weekend to devise a policy that could do the most damage to this country in the shortest time, they would be hard pressed to come up with a better outcome than the policies and practices of the Government that we are debating today. They are incredible at this important time of global relationships and international economic competition, when for example in China there are now more graduates every year than in the whole of the European Union and Russia combined.
On a recent visit to Nigeria, I met a young businesswoman being supported by DfID. She was setting up her own business in northern Nigeria in the heart of Boko Haram territory and employing local people who are trying to create a decent economy in a large Commonwealth country. Her higher education was in India and China, not in the United Kingdom. This is the kind of world we live in today, yet we have devised a policy that discriminates against talented people and then deters them from coming to this country and making a connection with it. It damages our reputation and our economy—and it damages the pursuit of human knowledge in a way that we should be ashamed of.
I will reference specifically the Scottish dimension because, as I mentioned in your Lordships’ Chamber back in July, we established the Fresh Talent programme in Scotland with the enthusiastic support of the then Home Secretary, my noble friend Lord Blunkett. This was back in 2002 and it was brought in in 2004. It extended the post-study work visa to Scottish universities and then to Scottish colleges for up to two years as a precursor to what happened in the rest of the United Kingdom. There was no abuse of that system. It helped us turn round Scotland’s historic population decline and made it absolutely clear that Scotland was open for business, knowledge and talented people. It was an outstanding success, so much so that it was copied elsewhere in the UK—yet there are no Scottish universities or colleges involved in the pilot project on tier 4 visas that was established by the Government in July.
I asked the Government a number of questions after my initial Oral Question in your Lordships’ House. I am astonished to discover that the four universities—all from the south of England and from the higher-ranked universities of the United Kingdom—were consulted in advance, but no other universities or colleges were consulted in advance about the pilot project. The data on which the universities are supposed to have been chosen are secret and we cannot scrutinise them because of “commercial confidentiality”. Yet at least one Scottish university—the University of Edinburgh—has a minuscule number of visa refusals on first application, which is meant to be the criterion chosen for this. Colleagues in universities and colleges across the country will not believe that these four universities were chosen objectively unless the Government publish those data and review the universities that were chosen for the pilot. It is simply wrong that the north of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were missed out of that pilot project, and that should be reviewed, even at this late stage.
The other issue I want to mention today is our international soft power. We have debated in this Chamber on many occasions the importance of Britain’s soft power in the world: our role in the Commonwealth, the United Nations Security Council, the European Union and other international bodies and the connections that we have internationally, economically, educationally and culturally. Surely it has to be part of that soft power that we make these connections with people who come to study in this country—and not just those who go on to be world leaders, whom other noble Lords have mentioned, and I understand their point. In the now well over 30 years since I left university, I have met people who I studied with in business, academia and politics on almost every continent of the globe. They are working hard and making a success of themselves but they will retain a connection with the United Kingdom all their lives because of where they started their undergraduate or postgraduate education. It seems to me fundamentally at odds with our objectives as a peace-loving, internationalised nation that in future we would deter these individuals coming to this country and being part of that wide international network.
The fantastic American writer Maya Angelou, who sadly is no longer with us, once wrote:
“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends”.
Surely in this day and age, at this time, when there is so much global uncertainty, insecurity and fear of the other, bringing people together, educating them together and sharing knowledge, research and teaching has to be one of our international goals. I urge the Government to treat this matter more seriously and to rethink their policies.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for securing this debate and achieving a greater level of consensus among the speakers than is often the case in this House. Before gathering together some thoughts and issues which will almost certainly repeat the contributions of others, I, too, welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and congratulate her on her maiden speech. We were expecting an insightful and powerful speech, and that was what we got. We were not disappointed, and we look forward very much to her future contributions to our debates.
As we have heard, our world-renowned universities and colleges are facing considerable challenges from Brexit, with all the uncertainties over EU funding, research and collaboration. If it was important before the referendum for the UK to be open and welcoming, it is even more critical now that we should be taking every possible measure to ensure that we can still attract international students. Yet, as we have heard from all sides, the Government insist on counting them as immigrants, while at the same time declaring that immigration must be reduced to meet a target that has little regard to the needs of the country.
Reference has been made to the recent polling carried out by Universities UK which found that the majority of people do not see international students as immigrants. They appreciate that students are here only temporarily and bring enormous benefits both economically and in terms of international relations. They add to the UK’s influence and soft power, which was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, by the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, and by other noble Lords. It is worth noting that 55 current heads of state—representing more than 25% of all the world’s countries—benefited from an education in the UK. I like the idea suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, of a UK education database. Perhaps we might include those mentioned by right reverend Prelate—St Augustine could be in there. We could spread the field wider to see just how influential the UK may have been in days gone by.
Why can we not follow the example of more welcoming countries by designating students as temporary migrants or visitors, thus removing them from the stigma of being part of immigration totals? We have heard this from all sides, including from the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, the noble Lord, Lord Trees, my noble friend Lord Shipley and the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington—many noble Lords concentrated on this. Even the noble Lord, Lord Green, spoke some welcoming words about international students—although he also voiced some contrary views. The noble Lord, Lord Lexden, brought in the impact on independent schools, which should form part of the whole picture.
As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, asked: what is the problem? The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, talked of the vandalism of the policy. There appears to be a fear somewhere that vast hordes of students will stay on illegally after their studies and cause havoc and unrest in society. But the recent unpublished report that has already been mentioned showed that only around 1,500 students do not leave each year, with no evidence of massive harm from those who do not leave.
It is never a bad thing to make policy decisions on the basis of evidence. So will the Government take steps to improve the reliability of exit checks, which could help to prove the case either way? It is not right that, currently, EU students considering study in the UK from 2018-19 have no certainty regarding their tuition fee status and access to student finance. Can the Government give any indication on when clarification on this point will be forthcoming? This certainly contributes to the decreasing attraction for EU students to study here—yet their presence, as we have heard, has great cultural value for UK students, who learn more about the world and establish friendships and networks which help secure good relations, which are in too short supply in our fractious world.
If the position is difficult within universities—which have been the main focus of most contributions—there are additional issues for colleges, which attract a wide range of students studying different courses from a range of a backgrounds. Existing Home Office regulations do not always align and serve them well. I am glad that colleges were included in this debate, even though universities have been the main focus. Do the Government take account of the important role that colleges play in educating international students? Currently, around 50,000 international and EU students are studying in further education colleges—a small percentage, but they provide an important financial, educational and cultural contribution. Colleges offer a valued progression route, with work-based qualifications which contribute to UK exports and help the sector widen the horizons of its students.
Following changes to the system in July 2015, college students are currently prevented from extending their leave in the UK for any reason. This makes it impossible for the thousands of students studying sub-degree programmes to progress on to higher education, thus making our provision less attractive to ambitious international students.
We heard from many noble Lords, my noble friend Lady Smith among them, about the complexity of the visa system. The choice of the UK as a destination of study for university students has been further undermined by changes to the post-study work route. Tier 4 visas provided opportunities for graduates to work in the UK for two years after they had completed their courses, but that is now reduced to four months. The reduction in post-study work opportunities has had a particularly disastrous impact on some markets, such as India.
The operation of the tier 4 regulations, changes to tier 2, suggestions that there will be even more onerous regulation and government rhetoric about international students have been noticed and reported on around the world. Alarmingly—but perhaps unsurprisingly—the number of Indian students studying at UK universities has fallen by 53% since 2010-11. I note that the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, was with the Prime Minister on her recent visit to India. Would that she had listened to him and taken the opportunity to reassure such an important country that its students would be welcome here by announcing changes that would have cost her nothing but provided a significant boost to our universities and colleges.
I feel that I ought to throw a few figures in the debate, as others have. Independent research has estimated that in 2011-12 non-EU students made a £7.3 billion contribution to UK GDP, rising to £9.1 billion when EU students are included, and supported 137,000 jobs across the UK, 170,000 when EU students are included. But the number of international students has been stagnant in recent years while competitor countries take advantage and see significant increases. That direct contribution of international students makes up an average of 20% of all universities’ revenue across England, and as such it is a crucial element of a university’s business operations. Having these sources of funding enables it to invest better in all its students and engage in research and innovation projects with its local community or with businesses.
As we have heard from the noble Lords, Lord Rees and Lord Trees, international students also enable programmes to be viable that would otherwise be lost through a shortage of UK students with appropriate skill or motivation. This is true in many of the STEM areas and in postgraduate studies. Universities fear losing essential revenue, but so too do they fear losing opportunities for learning and scholarship in areas where international students are key to numbers and continuity.
There are considerable off-campus benefits to the community, too, including the benefits to UK students of becoming familiar with different countries and cultures, as we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, and the noble Lord, Lord Trees. The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, spoke of his musicians and the fact that they bring talent to our country. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, spoke of the importance of medical schools and the international aspect to their studies. So how will the Government try to ensure global opportunities for UK students in future in order to guarantee that UK graduates have the international skills necessary to compete, which they can more readily acquire while working alongside overseas students, and in order to avoid the cultural chauvinism mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey?
The Minister has heard overwhelming, if not absolutely unanimous, support in this House for a change of policy towards overseas students. I urge her to use her good offices with the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary to persuade them to take one very simple step: to remove students from the immigration figures. It would be a small step but one that would have major repercussions among those students we want and need to attract to our universities from countries where we need to do far more to show that the UK is still an open, welcoming and influential player on the world stage. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, on securing this debate. I particularly congratulate my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti on a truly excellent maiden speech. I hope we hear from her many more times in this House. She has a wealth of experience and knowledge to bring to a wide range of debates, as we have heard today. We will all benefit from hearing more from her.
This Motion is most timely and enables us to further understand the position of the Government; it gives noble Lords an opportunity to offer some advice to the Government on the application of immigration policy and how that applies to overseas students. My first point, which has already been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Trees, and others, is that polling has consistently shown that the British public see international students not as long-term migrants but as valuable temporary visitors. International students arrive in the UK and complete their studies, and then the majority go home afterwards.
A ComRes poll referred to by other noble Lords revealed that only a quarter of British adults think that international students are immigrants. The same poll found that 75% of British adults would like to see the same number of, or more, international students coming to the UK to study. Without question, we have some of the finest universities in the world. Our institutions have educated some of the finest minds on the planet, and that has been of great credit and prestige to our universities, but also to the United Kingdom as a whole. Prime ministers, presidents and world leaders in almost every field of literature, science, engineering, business, finance, medicine and every other discipline have studied as international students here in the UK. What a great benefit that has been to our country and what a source of pride, as the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, said.
The international student market is worth billions of pounds to the UK economy. International students pay their course fees and accommodation, they spend money on and off the campus, supporting the local economy, they make little demand on public services and they are now required to pay the NHS surcharge. In many ways, it is a win-win for the UK for the universities, the local economy and the students themselves.
The Government have ambitious targets to grow the number of overseas students, and I welcome that. It is very much to the benefit of the UK that we increase the number of international students coming here and that the UK is viewed as a welcoming place to live, study, learn and develop. They bring benefits to our students, as my noble friend Lady Royall of Blaisdon said.
The other benefits to the UK of growing numbers of international students include the soft power benefits, to which many noble Lords referred. When students return home, they have a positive attitude to the UK, an appreciation of our values, trust and respect for what this country stands for in the world as they become leaders in future in their chosen profession, as the noble Lord, Lord Trees, and my noble friend Lord McConnell said.
The problem we have is conflicting government policy that sends out a confused, mixed message. I very much agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, when he spoke about the Home Office not being clear what it wants or what is its position. It must have in its sights the importance of international students to the UK economy. On the one hand, the Government say that they want to increase the number of international students and that they are very welcome here; on the other, their actions give a very different impression to prospective students, with tighter controls and the UK appearing unwelcoming and unfriendly to international students.
The insistence on keeping student numbers as part of the policy target on immigration has been discussed many times in your Lordships’ House and elsewhere, but the Government are just not listening. I am not asking them to change how net migration figures are reported—it is an internationally recognised definition—but have they considered doing what is done in the United States of America, to which the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington referred? A set of statistics using the same UN definition is produced but the Department of Homeland Security also produces a second set which makes a distinction between permanent migrants and those classed as non-migrant admissions. The effect of clashing UK government policy outcomes is that our competitors, who are also seeking to grow their share of the international student marketplace—places such as the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand—are all making inroads into the number of students we could reasonably expect to come to the United Kingdom. While our figures are stalling, there is real growth in the number of international students studying in other countries.
I want to address some of the points made by noble Lords during the debate. I very much agreed with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, when he spoke about the excellent universities and colleges throughout the UK and said that it was wrong to cast aspersions about the quality of courses or institutions. My noble friend Lady Warwick of Undercliffe made excellent points about the soft power benefits that accrue to the UK from a flourishing international student programme. I know the east midlands very well—I worked there for many years—and I wholeheartedly endorse her comments about the university nexus in Nottingham, Derby, Loughborough and Leicester.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, commented how difficult it is for international students to get a visa to undertake a course at Cambridge University, one of the finest institutions in the whole world. That can only be damaging to the UK and its economy. I very much agree about the positive impact that international students have on communities, referred to by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester. My noble friend Lady Chakrabarti made similar points about the contribution of international students to the local economy, supporting local jobs, and the risk of exodus posed to the teaching and research professions by the challenges of Brexit and the UK being perceived as a less welcoming place.
My noble friend Lord Lipsey made a key point when he said that the problem was what the world sees when looking at the UK. Now we have voted for Brexit, the Government making things difficult for international students is not the best way for a trading nation to engage with the world, and can only damage us further.
I did not generally agree with the contribution by the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, although he did highlight some important issues, on which the Government clearly put great emphasis in developing their current policies, which are doing us such damage.
The concerns expressed by my noble friend Lord Judd on the effect that the Government’s policy is having on the number of people who want to come here and study medicine, and the effect that is having on medical advances, the NHS and the healthcare and well-being of our nation, should also be of concern to the whole House.
As I bring my remarks to a close, I have a number of questions for the Minister. I hope that she will be able to answer them today, but if she cannot I shall, of course, be happy if she writes to me afterwards. First, what are the Government doing to boost the appeal of the United Kingdom as the first choice destination for international students? Will the noble Baroness agree to speak to the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary to make the case for reviewing the procedures applied by the UK authorities to make the entry system both robust and fair, but not to have a system that is seen as unwelcoming to international students? That can only be damaging to our country.
What does the noble Baroness think is the reason for the drop in the number of Indian students coming to study here and the considerable increase in Indian students going to study in the United States? Does she agree with me that a perception, real or not, that the UK is not welcoming to international students is hugely damaging to the UK economy? Can she tell the House why the Government cannot see the damage they are doing to the economy, and to our reputation abroad, with their attitude to international students?
In conclusion, I again thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for bringing this Motion to your Lordships’ House for debate, and again congratulate my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti on her excellent maiden speech. I look forward to the Minister’s response to the debate. My final point is that I hope that she will report this debate back to the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary. Noble Lords have highlighted the perilous situation we find ourselves in in this country following Brexit, and also the problem of how we are viewed in the world, and the damaging effect that is having on the country.
My Lords, I begin by thanking my noble friend Lord Lucas for initiating this incredibly popular debate, which attracted almost 20 speakers, and also welcome to her place the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and congratulate her on her maiden speech. Like me, she is an immigrant, and also like me, she sounded quite emotional speaking in this House for the first time. I have to say that I felt exactly the same. I look forward to hearing from her, as the years go on, in this House.
It should come as no surprise to anybody that on the subject of higher education, noble Lords bring unparalleled experience. I felt quite humble listening to some of the background stories and hearing about some of the universities with which noble Lords are associated. I have to say—although noble Lords may not agree with me—that I do not think there is any real difference of opinion between any of us on this topic. We all share the desire to ensure that the United Kingdom continues to attract the best and brightest international students to study here. High-quality international students enrich the intellectual life of the institutions where they are studying. As the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, says, they increase the soft power of the UK as a country, and they enhance the experience of the domestic students here. I hope that, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, says, they return to their home countries with fond memories of their time in the United Kingdom.
We already have an excellent offer for international students, which is why the UK remains the second most popular place in the world to study, behind only the United States. There is no limit on the number of genuine international students who can come here to study. That is a very important point. We do not propose to cap or limit the number of overseas students who can come to study in the UK.
Our approach is based on two key principles, which I hope will be shared by all noble Lords. First, we want to ensure that UK education institutions can attract the best and brightest. Secondly, we need to be vigilant and guard against abuse of the student migration route. I do not want to bring politics into what has been a bipartisan debate, with very good contributions from all around the House, but I have to say that the student immigration system the Government inherited in 2010 was a mess. Abuse was rife, and steps needed to be taken to restore it to a sensible state. Some 920 institutions have had their right to sponsor overseas students removed, and the effects are clear to see. The proportion of overseas students now attending higher education institutions has risen by 16%—from 143,000 in 2010 to 166,000 in 2015.
I would not want your Lordships to interpret this as an attempt to restrict those who are genuine in their desire to study. Visa applications from university students are now 14% higher than they were in 2010. Visa applications to Russell group universities, of which much mention has been made today, are 39% higher than in 2010. The grant rate for tier 4 general visa applications has increased every year since 2010, and 94% of such applications were granted in 2015.
Of course, applications from some nationalities are down, as the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, pointed out. I shall address that later. Equally, applications from other nationalities are up, particularly from Chinese students. There are natural fluctuations, but the fact that overall applications to universities have increased in the last five years is encouraging and suggests that any particular falls should not be attributed to Home Office immigration policies.
This Government are determined to help our best institutions attract the best international talent from around the world. Let me give noble Lords a recent example. We recently launched the tier 4 visa pilot. Four institutions, the Universities of Bath, Cambridge, Oxford and Imperial College, chosen because of their consistently low visa refusal rates, are piloting a scheme whereby certain visa eligibility checks have been delegated to the universities and the documentary requirements for students taking part are reduced. The students also have additional leave at the end of their course to enable them to take advantage of the UK’s post-study work offer. Monitoring of the pilot is ongoing and the results will be evaluated to inform any decision to roll out the pilot more widely. However, if it is a success—I hope that this addresses the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord McConnell—I hope that other high-quality institutions in the UK will be able to benefit. The noble Lord asked about publishing specific data on the pilot. We have not done so, as it is commercially sensitive information.
As the Home Secretary recently announced, we will be seeking views on study immigration routes. I encourage all interested parties—which will, I am sure, include many of your Lordships and the institutions with which noble Lords are associated—to participate and ensure that every point of view is heard.
I shall deal with some specific points raised during the debate, and I hope I can get through every one of them—but poor noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, is always last on the list because he winds up for the Opposition, and I may well have to write to him. However, I shall address the first answer to him, because I have just had inspiration from the Box. He asked why we cannot have two sets of immigration figures, like the USA. Another noble Lord asked the same question. Net migration statistics are not produced by the Home Office but by the ONS, the UK’s independent statistical authority. I hope that answers the question.
Several noble Lords—the noble Baronesses, Lady Smith of Newnham and Lady Royall of Blaisdon, the noble Lord, Lord Trees, my noble friends Lord Lexden and the Duke of Wellington, and others I am sure—suggested that students should be removed from the net migration statistics. I make the point that the ONS has drawn up these statistics. The Government trying to influence the production of independent statistics might be seen to help the Government achieve a manifesto target.
Like Australia, Canada and New Zealand, the Office for National Statistics includes international students in net migration calculations. International students who stay for longer than 12 months have, like other migrants, an impact on the infrastructure and services that they use and the communities in which they live. Only yesterday, the ONS released a report which stated that the net migration figures are used to calculate the size of the UK population in any given year, and that they include international students since they contribute to population growth. I make one final point on that, because I think it is important. Changing the way that we measure migration would not make a difference to our student migration policy, because there continues to be no limit on the number of genuine international students who come here to study.
I am very reluctant to sit down because I have very little time.
Can the noble Baroness explain how that fits with an immigration target of tens of thousands?
I was just saying to the noble Baroness that, because we do not place a limit on the number of students, the fact that the ONS includes students in the migration statistics does not impact on students’ abilities to come here. I do not know if I have made that very clear; the noble Baroness does not look very convinced. If I could make progress and she could look at Hansard, perhaps I could make it clear in writing as well.
My noble friend Lord Lucas and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, asked the initial question, “What is the problem?”. I do not think we are anything but in agreement that international students are absolutely vital to the UK, whether it is in medicine, engineering, or anything else. But we must remain vigilant, maintaining safeguards against the types of abuse that we saw previously. We will be inviting views on what more we can do to strengthen the system to support our excellent higher education institutions and those that stick to the rules to attract the best talent.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, asked me to confirm that the Home Office will think liberally and openly about EU students. The Prime Minister has been very clear that she wants to protect the status of EU nationals already living in the UK. The only circumstances in which that would not be possible is if British citizens’ rights in other EU member states were not protected in return. There will be no immediate changes to the immigration status of EU students or the way that universities are able to recruit students.
My noble friend Lord Lexden asked about minor infractions being reported to UKVI, resulting in heavy sanctions being unfairly imposed. Sponsors benefit directly from migration and are expected to play a part in ensuring that the system is not abused. They must therefore fulfil certain duties to ensure that immigration control is maintained. We already apply discretion to sponsors who have fewer than 50 international students when they undergo their annual compliance assessment and we do not apply sanctions lightly.
The noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, asked whether we could introduce a post-study work route for STEM students and nurses. The post-study provisions we have in place must strike the balance between providing competitive options for the brightest graduates from around the globe and maintaining safeguards against the type of widespread abuse that was seen under former post-study work schemes. The noble Baroness also said that the Times report suggested that only 1 per cent of students overstay, and asked why we therefore needed to review the student visa system. We think that the reforms we have made in the last few years have worked and greatly improved compliance. However, that does not mean that we can be complacent. We will shortly be consulting on non-EU work and study immigration routes.
All I asked for were the data. Can we see the facts with the data?
My Lords, I can reply to the noble Baroness in writing. As the noble Lord, Lord Green, said, it is prudent to await clarification before policy decisions are made. However, I will get more detail to the noble Baroness on that if I can.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester and the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, talked about the recent visit to India, and the fact that the number of Indian students coming to the UK has dropped. We issue more tier 4 visas to students from India than any other country except China and the US, although I of course accept the point made by the noble Lord. We have seen increases in the number of student visas granted elsewhere to China and Indonesia in the year ending March of this year. The proportion of Indian students coming to study in the UK has increased from 50% in 2010 to around 90% in 2015, so the trend of smaller volumes of students with greater concentration in higher education is likely to reflect the recent policy changes to clamp down on immigration abuse by non-genuine students and bogus colleges.
The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, talked about tier 2 salary thresholds being too high. For the most part they are based on the annual survey of hours and earnings—ASHE—published by the independent ONS. The salary requirements were based on advice from the Migration Advisory Committee, which is an independent body made up of labour market economists.
The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, said that the Fresh Talent Scheme worked, and that therefore Scotland needs a post-study work visa. The Fresh Talent Scheme operated in Scotland between 2004 and 2008. That scheme placed few restrictions on those who wanted to stay in the UK to work post-study and granted free access to the whole of the UK labour market. Evidence published by Scottish Government Social Research in 2008 found that only 44% of applicants had remained in Scotland at the end of their two years’ leave and a significant proportion were not in skilled work. We do not intend to return to the post-study work visa. That does not necessarily lead to skilled work.
I keep getting notes saying that I have two minutes left, then notes saying that I have no minutes. However, I think that I have probably outstayed my welcome at the Dispatch Box. I thank all noble Lords who have participated in the debate. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, once again.
As the noble Baroness sits down, I simply ask her to also address in the written notes that she sends us the issues about differentiation of quality that I raised in my presentation.
The noble Baroness absolutely did and I will respond to that. In fact, she made another point about the TEF, which I will address as well.
My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. I think that we have made a very good job of celebrating the excellence of our universities and the importance to us of international students. I even found that I agreed with much that the noble Lord, Lord Green, said. It was a pleasant debate all round.
I have listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, over many years, so I had high expectations of her maiden speech and was in no way disappointed. I look forward to listening to her many times again.
I have also listened to Home Office Ministers’ speeches on many occasions, so I had low expectations. I was pretty certain that the Minister would be issued with a stick of candy-floss—sweet but very little substance—and so it turned out. It was comforting that she said such nice things about welcoming international students, but she absolutely did not say, “We, the Home Office, will be putting our backs into making sure we get lots more of them”. I am sad that she did not.