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David Willets pleased as plan to send overseas students home is dropped

The former Conservative universities minister, David Willetts, has welcomed the news that plans put forward by the home secretary, Theresa May, to force foreign students to leave the UK after graduating, have been blocked. Willetts said that the market for foreign students is “a great British export industry”, one of the great British successes and one that brings in a lot of money to the UK.

David Willetts said attracting overseas students was ‘one of the great British successes’. Photograph: Graham Whitby-Boot/Sportsphoto Ltd/ Allstar/The Guardian David Willetts said attracting overseas students was ‘one of the great British successes’. Photograph: Graham Whitby-Boot/Sportsphoto Ltd/ Allstar/The Guardian
07-01-2015 by The Guardian

The former Conservative universities minister, David Willetts, has welcomed the news that Theresa May’s plans to force foreign students to leave the UK after graduating, have been blocked.

Willetts was dropped from his post in last summer’s government reshuffle.  He described the market for foreign students as “a great British export industry”, adding that he was pleased the plans had been abandoned.

Willetts spoke on the BBC's Radio 4's Today programmes saying: “Attracting overseas students to study in Britain is one of the great British successes. We make friends around the world and we make a lot of money from them.”

Willetts, along with a number of business leaders, including the inventor James Dyson, campaigned to have Theresa May's plans blocked, reported the Financial Times, stating that that the Tory leadership, including George Osborne, had rejected the home secretary’s plan.  Her plans would have required foreign students to reapply for a work visa from their home country after graduating from universities in the UK.

Willetts stated: “What we’re talking about here is an internationally competitive market. There are several million students every year who go abroad to study, many of them from India and China, and there’s a competition between the United States, us, Australia, Canada … Our market share is about 15% or so, it’s a growing market; each one of those students is worth over £20,000 a year to the British economy.”

According to Willetts, the coalition had already tightened the rules on allowing international students to stay on after their degree, but said the requirement that they secure a graduate job paying at least £24,000 should be relaxed to allow for regional average wage variations.

Willetts said: “Getting that kind of money in London and the south-east is easier than earning it as your first job in the Midlands or the north. So this policy has the effect of sucking overseas graduates into London and the south-east and I personally think that we should allow some flexibility, with rather lower wage requirements in other parts of the country, but that’s my personal suggestion.”

The blocking of May’s plan to tighten the rules on international students – which was first laid out in the Tory party’s 2010 election manifesto – will be a personal blow to the home secretary. Theresa May is widely thought to be in competition with Osborne to succeed David Cameron as Conservative party leader.