Theresa May is under mounting pressure to remove foreign students from the immigration figures after MPs warned that her refusal to do so is damaging Britain’s world class universities.
In a report published today, the cross-party Education Select Committee calls for overseas students to be recorded “under a separate classification and not be counted against the overall limit.”
Suggesting that Ms May is isolated on the issue, the MPs say: “There is widespread support for treating international students as temporary rather than permanent migrants: from the public, Parliament, and parts of the Government.” It highlights remarks by the Brexit ministers Boris Johnson and Liam Fox in favour of taking the students out of the figures.
“The Government should remove overseas students from the net migration target to make it clear it wants talent to come to the UK. The Government’s refusal to do so is putting at risk the higher education sector’s share of the international student market. Removing international students from the target would be a simple way to offset some of the risks from leaving the EU.”
For EU students, there should be a reciprocal open approach with light touch controls, such as visa-free access, it said.
The rights of EU higher education staff, who make up 16 per cent of the workforce, to work and live in the UK should be guaranteed as soon as possible, to end uncertainty and prevent a significant “brain drain” of talented staff.
The MPs urged the Government to unilaterally agree the rights of the three million EU nationals in the UK before the end of this year even if a reciprocal deal is not agreed before then.
They warned that ministers would be failing in their duty if they did not draw up a contingency plan for higher education in the event of no exit deal being reached in the UK-EU negotiations.