The international trade secretary became the second Brexiter to press the prime minister to change her policy on Wednesday, after Boris Johnson, foreign secretary, warned last year of the potential damage it could cause to the UK’s £25bn higher education exports.
Meanwhile Philip Hammond, the chancellor, and Jo Johnson, universities minister, have also suggested publicly that students be excluded from the politically-charged target. The Times has reported that even Amber Rudd, who succeeded Mrs May as home secretary, has privately urged Downing Street to reverse the current plan.
The polling shows that the British public does not consider foreign students to be of concern; they still contribute to demand for housing, transport and other public services. The burden that immigrants place on the state is consistently cited as a problem in polls.
International students would obviously meet this definition. However, this has not stopped the UK’s main higher education competitors, including the US, Australia and Canada, from reclassifying students as temporary migrants.
Mrs May is keen to bring down net migration, but she wants to do this by cutting the number of international students, particularly those at less prestigious universities — not by removing them from the overall total