International students do not feel welcome in Britain, says Vince Cable, Business Secretary

Business secretary Vince Cable and Shami Chakrabarti, chancellor of Oxford Brookes university speaking at the 2013 Lib Dem party conference. Photograph: Bob Fallon: The Guardian

Sarah Marsh, deputy editor for The Guardian Teacher Network, reviews the 2013 Lib Dem party conference (September 17, 2013) and tells us that Vince Cable, Business Secretary, said that the number of international students in British universities has fallen sharply because they do not feel welcome.

Cable's warning came at a fringe event of the Lib Dem party conference, on 16 September 2013, which discussed universities and growth. Cable said that American and Australia have been chosen as study destinations by a lot of students who would normally come to Britain to study because they think they will have a "warmer welcome".

Cable noted at the conference: "There are lots of perception issues particularly in India where the message has got back that the British do not want overseas students. Numbers have fallen sharply and students have gone off to the States and Australia."

Cable said that overseas students generate approximately £10bn out of the £17bn generated by universities every year, through their fees and expenditure. But, he added, the issue of overseas students continues to be a controversial one, because foreign students are classified as immigrants and counted under the government's immigration cap if they stay for more than one year.

Cable continued by saying that the home secretary, Theresa May, had tightened the regime on immigration.  However, he believes that her decision not to impose a cap on overseas students was "reasonably sensible", although the restrictions on post-study work, he believes are "not perfect".

The event, which was sponsored by Bright Britain, included other speakers such as: Shami Chakrabarti, the chancellor of Oxford Brookes university; John Longworth, director general at the British Chambers of Commerce; and event chair Michael White, assistant editor and former political editor of the Guardian.

Longworth agreed that overseas students were valuable to the UK economy.  He said: "We need to attract the brightest from around the world."  He added that Young UK businesses are being hoovered up by foreign and multi-national companies. "How are we ever going to have a Cisco or an Apple in the UK if the business disappears before the first stage of development?" he asked.

The debate to a large extent, centred on whether investment should go to higher education or further education. Chakrabarti noted that education must be for the world of life and not simply for the world of work.  She added: "I am not stuck in the mindset that it has to be classical subjects and we cannot be investing in more vocational subjects. I think it is good for the economy and the country to have young people in full time education for longer."

Chakrabarti thought that it was a shame that: "this generation of young did not warm the planet, and crunch the credit and start wars, real and metaphysical, and [yet] they are going to have to work longer and harder for less remuneration and more taxation than my generation of 40-somethings who screwed everything up."

Chakrabarti added that university education was important from a democratic perspective since university educated citizens are more challenging, active and questioning, and capable of holding the powerful to account.  She added that there is hard evidence to show that more graduates are good for the economy. "Nine out of 10 graduates still get jobs within three years of leaving college. It works politically, constitutionally democratically and economically as well," she said.

[Photo: Vince Cable by Bob Fallon for The Guardian]

What do you think?  Are international students welcomed in the UK?

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