The government is jeopardising higher education as a successful export

The government is jeopardising the future of higher education as a successful export due to its backward-looking approach to international students, writes Chuka Umunna.

The government is jeopardising the future of higher education as a successful export due to its backward-looking approach to international students, writes Chuka Umunna

The government’s misguided decision to include legitimate students in its net migration target is doing huge damage, putting off those wishing to study here and sending all the wrong messages at a time when we need to attract the brightest and best from across the globe to Britain’s seats of learning.

Higher education is our seventh largest export industry and generates over £10bn of export income for our economy; students make a huge contribution to local economies too.

But as a result of the government’s approach – effectively putting a ‘closed for business’ sign up over Britain’s universities internationally – has seen significant falls in overseas students applying for British universities, with a 51 per cent fall in post graduates coming from India and a 49 per cent fall in those from Pakistan.

Worries have even reached Whitehall. The Department for Education’s non-executive director Jim O’Neill has recently raised concerns on the impact of the government’s policy, warning that its stance is “really bad as it relates to this opportunity”. He is right to say that it “sends a message that we’re not serious when we talk of this ambition to export education and that we’re not joined up”.

Even Cabinet Office minister Jo Johnson has recently raised doubts on the wisdom of his own government’s approach.

This morning in the House of Commons I pressed the business secretary on his failure to protect the interests of universities and his failure to stand up to Theresa May. This government is badly letting down our universities and is doing damage to our economy.

As usual, he blustered, refused to answer the question, and even sought to deny that legitimate students fall within the government’s net migration target. As we’ve seen all too often, this is yet another area where for all of the business secretary’s sabre rattling at his coalition partners, he has failed to deliver.

In contrast with the government’s failure, today Labour announced that we would not include legitimate students in any immigration cap. Yvette Cooper and I are clear that our approach will provide the certainty and clarity our universities have been crying out for.

Universities are a key part of Labour’s Agenda 2030 plan for better-balanced, sustainable growth based on the talents of all to tackle the cost-of-living crisis. To achieve this, we need to own the future by spurring innovation, the development of new technologies and ideas.

Where the government has hindered this progress, Labour will help it flourish.

Chuka Umunna is shadow secretary of state for Business, Innovation and Skills and Labour MP for Streatham

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