It has been reported today that the Parliamentary Private Secretary to David Willetts MP, the universities and science minister, has admitted that students will remain part of the net migration figures that the Conservative government is trying to reduce.
This comes only months after David Cameron was reported to have directed Willetts to “pitch… to international students more persuasively“, indicating that the Conservative party does or did see the benefit of having international students study in the UK.
And those benefits are well understood. A report this year for the University of Sheffield shows thatinternational students will make a net contribution of £120 million to Sheffield’s economy, rising to £130 million when looking at the wider region.
International students are typically young, have no dependents and are
…implying that their long-run net fiscal impact is highly likely to be
…while further long-term external benefits should result from international students studying in Sheffield
In other words: they pump money into the university and the local area, far more than they cost in terms of services; due to being young and without children they are unlikely to cost the NHS a lot of money; and rather than stealing jobs from UK workers they are likely to fill skills gaps in the UK market given that a good deal of them study STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) which are understudied in the UK.
It is no surprise then that when talking big about the economy, the Tories are keen to support the idea of international students because they benefit the economy greatly. The cognitive dissonance builds however, when the Tories want to talk tough on immigration and their commitment to bringing net migration down to the tens of thousands – at which point, they get very keen on bringing down the numbers of these students.
Of course, the Tory spin is that this drop in foreign students is due to them tightening up abuse of the system but the general word on the street is that Tory visa policy has made international students feel unwelcome. This was recognised to some degree earlier in the year when David Cameron went on a trip to India to try to redress this image – to the insult of some.
The arguments for reducing net migration are that resources are tight, jobs are scarce and therefore we cannot afford to have more people entering the country seeking work and increasing the NHS and welfare budgets. International students are well known to do none of these things, and in fact may alleviate all of these issues by contributing to the economy while not requiring NHS or welfare services and eventually by providing much needed skills to the labour market.
Yet, the current government is unwilling to remove students from the ambitious, targeted reductions in net migration and boasts about dramatically reducing numbers of international students in this country. The only conclusion can be that the desire to reduce the number of foreign nationals within Britain outweighs the desire to boost the economy, boost university funding, boost research, and boost the labour market.
What is the term for an irrational dislike of foreign nationals? Xenophobia. And that’s what this policy is based on – an irrational desire to reduce ‘the foreigners’ despite their economic benefits in a time of extreme austerity.