Ignore Amber Rudd – British voters welcome foreign students

Clear majority believe foreign students have a positive impact, two polls show


An overwhelming majority of British people believe that foreign students have a positive impact on Britain, according to two different polls published today.

YouGov/Times poll poll found that five times as many people think that foreign students at UK universities have a positive impact than think they have a negative one.

Almost half of respondents believed that the government should be doing more to attract foreign students to British universities, compared to fewer than a third who said they should be discouraged.

Separately, a ComRes poll commissioned by Universities UK found that 75 per cent of people are either happy with the numbers of foreign students in the UK, or would like there to be more. A majority (53 per cent) said they would support policies designed to attract more international students to UK universities.

In the same poll, 70 per cent of respondents said that when international students graduate from UK universities, it is better if they use their skills here and work in the UK for a period of time in order to contribute to the economy rather than returning immediately to their home country.

Both polls starkly undermine the hardline approach of both Theresa May and Amber Rudd, who are attempting to crack down on foreign students staying in the UK after graduating. Currently, foreign graduates are entitled to stay for four months, unless they find work with a salary of at least £20,000 a year.

Earlier this week, it was revealed that the Home Office refused to release a report showing that just one per cent of foreign students overstay their visas — a tiny fraction of what the government has previously suggested.

Rudd has proposed tougher rules on who could be admitted to British universities in the first place, despite the demonstrable economic benefits of welcoming foreign students. It has been reported that the home secretary wanted to exempt students from the Tory pledge to slash net migration, but was rebuffed by the prime minister.

Commenting on the ComRes survey, UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said:

“This survey shows that common sense has prevailed amongst the British public who can clearly see the huge benefits international students bring to our universities and to the towns and cities where they live.

The public recognises these students are highly skilled individuals who can go on to contribute to our economy after finishing their studies. As a government report published yesterday shows, only 1% of international students break the terms of their visa by refusing to leave the country after their course ends”

 She continued:

“The Prime Minister cannot see the wood for the trees when it comes to international students in UK higher education. Recent proposals to limit international students to the ‘best’ universities and courses are misguided and should be withdrawn.

Her government needs to take a very different approach and support universities and local economies by removing international students from the net migration target altogether.”

Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin is editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter.

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