International students shun 'unwelcoming' UK, claim Lords

Published on Friday, 11 April 2014 09:52
Written by Govtoday staff

An 'unwelcoming' UK has led to an unprecedented fall in international science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) student numbers, according to a House of Lords science and technology committee report out today.

The Lords inquiry looked specifically at the numbers of international students in STEM subjects, and whether the UK's immigration policy has had any impact.

The Lords report, entitled International Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) students, calls on the government to rethink their immigration policy, which it calls contradictory.

The government are simultaneously committed to reducing net migration and attracting increasing numbers of international students (15–20% over the next five years). This contradiction could be resolved if the government removed students, who comprise a majority of non-EU immigrants, from the net migration figures.

The Lords are concerned by the fact that international STEM student enrolments have fallen by more than 10% in the last two years.

International students make a huge contribution to the academic, intellectual and cultural vibrancy of UK universities, also enriching the experience for domestic students. International students also contribute very significantly to university finances, often partly subsidising courses for domestic students. Some courses, particularly taught Masters, are made viable by international student enrolments, and a fall in international student numbers poses a real threat. In terms of the labour market, UK Plc is missing out on highly skilled workers.

The Lords report calls for a simpler UK immigration policy.

Evidence given to the Lords over the course of the inquiry strongly suggested that the government's immigration rules were a contributory factor in this fall in student numbers. Complicated rules, a constantly shifting immigration policy, expensive visas and insufficient time to seek work after study all contribute to making the UK appear unwelcoming, the report says.

Lord Krebs, chair of the committee, said: "When we really need to send the message that international STEM students will get a warm welcome in the UK, they're getting the cold shoulder and heading elsewhere. We've seen over the last few years how international student numbers have fallen dramatically, in particular from India. As a result we're missing out on the talent, the economic and cultural contribution that international students bring when they come here to study, and our competitors are reaping the rewards.

"The overwhelming evidence that we received led us to conclude that changes to the immigration rules in this country have played a direct part in putting overseas students off from choosing the UK. The rules are seen as too complex and subject to endless changes, the visa costs are not competitive, and the rules relating to work after study are so limiting that prospective students are heading to the US, Australia, Canada and elsewhere.

"We are calling on the government to overhaul its immigration policies - in particular it needs to do away with the new rules on working after study. Allowing just four months for a student to find work after graduation is more or less tantamount to telling overseas students they'd be better off going to study elsewhere."

Report recommendations:

  • The government should treat student numbers separately for immigration policy making purposes.
  • The government should review their package for international students every two years to ensure it is globally competitive.
  • The government should reinstate the previous post study work route, which was simple and effective.
  • The government should establish a working group to determine the impact of decreasing international taught masters students on the sustainability of courses.
  • The Home Office should improve the way information is provided to prospective students to ensure welcoming and clear language is used.

Source: House of Lords science and technology committee

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