Foreign students are important to the UK’s economy and reputation and should be exempt from plans to cut the immigration numbers into the country, ex deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine has said.
In a call that was backed by Liberal Democrat leader and current deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, Lord Heseltine said that non-EU students should not be counted in the official statistics for immigration, warning that it could be damaging to UK universities by driving students away in the future.
It comes as the Home Office has said that foreign students will continue to be counted in official immigration figures.
“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,” Lord Heseltine said, adding that cutting the number of people studying here from overseas could have a financial impact on the country in the future.
However, the Home Office’s response to the figures indicated that it is not trying to curb the number of legitimate foreign students coming to the UK, adding that it has simply moved to reduce the abuse of this system across the last few years.
“While our reforms are cracking down on the abuse of student visas, which was allowed to continue for too long, we have seen applications to study at UK universities go up by seven per cent last year – and by even more for our world-leading Russell Group universities,” it said in a statement.
In the year to the end of March this year, the Home Office said that the number of study-related sponsored visa applications had risen by one per cent to 209,011, which was assisted by a seven per cent increase in applications for universities from overseas.
In particular, an increased volume of applications from the likes of China, Brazil and Malaysia, the Home Office said, shows that it is not curbing the number of foreign nationals coming to the UK to study, which should help to allay fears.