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Poll finds overwhelming public support for foreign students in the UK

A new study based on opinion polls has been released less than nine months before national elections in the UK. The poll shows strong public support for taking international students out of net migration figures. The report was released by the think-tank British Future and Universities UK. It shows that 59% of the public says that the government should not reduce international student numbers.

26-08-2014 by The Pie News

A new study based on opinion polls has been released less than nine months before national elections in the UK.  The poll shows strong public support for taking international students out of net migration figures. The report was released by the think-tank British Future and Universities UK.  It shows that 59% of the public says that the government should not reduce international student numbers. The study draws on a poll carried out by ICM.  The poll was conducted using 2,111 participants and six workshops held across the country. Participants were against reducing international student numbers and 75% thought they should be allowed to stay and work in Britain after graduating.

Last year some 300,000 international students studied in the UK.  This contributed to an estimated £3.4bn to local economies in off-campus expenditures including rent, food, transport and entertainment.  This benefit was recognised by 60% of people polled.

The public also recognised the benefits higher tuition fees bring to universities, as well as the knock-on effects this has for domestic students.  Moreover, 61% agreed that universities would have less funding to invest in top quality facilities and teaching without the higher fees.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative party set the target in 2010 to reduce net migration figures to less than 100,000 by 2015. This has placed immigration control high on its platform for next year’s elections.

A series of reforms have already been put in place.  One of these reforms includes eliminating the post-study work route and introducing credibility interviews.  Industry stakeholders say that this has directly impacted numbers from key markets, specifically India and Pakistan.

However, statistics from the report surprisingly reveal that Conservatives are among the strongest supporters for taking international students out of immigration figures.  Surprisingly, 66% of the party’s supporters say they are in favour of the policy.

Former Conservative deputy prime minster Michael Heseltine has backed the report.  He says that including foreign students in net migration figures could damage the UK’s reputation abroad.

Heseltine told the BBC: “In talking about tens of thousands of people, the government will have to recognise that there are very large numbers of students in this country – in our universities, in our business schools – who are a great asset financially and educationally.” “The government will have to recognise that there are very large numbers of students in this country who are a great asset financially and educationally.”  Heseltine added that overseas students were “not the sort of people that are causing the anxiety about immigration”.

Moreover, the conservatives in the poll were among the most in favour of extending post study work rights to foreign graduates. Three quarters (75%) of the public think that international students should be permitted to stay and work in Britain for at least some period of time after they graduate.  81% of Conservatives polled agreed with this.

Overseas students provide economic and soft power benefits.  The report also shows that the British public thinks students have a positive effect on every day life.

The report states: “International students significantly increase the diversity and vibrancy of a local area. Members of the public who took part in our research groups – three quarters of them non-graduates – readily (and often enthusiastically) identified this as a significant local benefit brought by international students.” "They attract improved services for local people – more and better shops, entertainment and transport, for example.”

Based on the public support, it is recommended in the report that the government (a) remove international students from any net migration target, (b) launch an international student growth strategy, similar to those in place in other countries and backed by investment, (c) make a renewed effort to convey the message that Britain welcomes international students and (d) should enhance work opportunities for qualified graduates.

The report recommends that international students be removed from any net migration target by the government.

Conservative MP and chairman of the lobby group Conservatives for Managed Migration, Mark Field, has also come out in support of the report. He said: “Politicians are rightly expected to engage with public views and anxieties about immigration, and the government has admirably done so.” “It will, of course, be an important election issue for all political parties as we approach the 2015 General Election. But it is time politicians made the case that there are different types of immigration.”