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Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive at the Institute of Student Employers, responds to the publication of the Migration Advisory Committee report on the impacts of international students in the UK.
As the UK’s leading independent voice for student employers, our vision is that the success of every business is maximised by full access to student talent, so the arrival of the Migration Advisory Committee report which recommends that international students in the UK should not be removed from targets to reduce migration comes somewhat as a disappointment (see HEi-know Briefing Report 398).
We are advocates of last week’s proposal from Universities UK, which called for a graduate visa to allow talented international students to work for a period post-study in the UK. However, the Migration Advisory Committee has also rejected this idea.
International students do not take a significant proportion of graduate jobs. ISE annual recruitment survey shows that an average of 5 per cent of graduate hires are from the European Economic Area and 3 per cent from the rest of the world. What they do is fill skills gaps that make our businesses, large and small, more globally competitive. While enabling economic growth, they also mean that our universities are more internationally competitive too and that UK students have the opportunity to develop a more global mindset.
The costs of visas and the complexity of the process means that employers only pursue visas where there is a genuine need, so any concerns that foreign students may take our jobs are unfounded.
Surely in a post-Brexit world we want our campuses to be internationally competitive. Canadian, American and Australian universities are able to out-compete their UK counterparts. Asian universities too have developed an increasingly positive reputation and are attracting more interest from the domestic and overseas student populations than ever before. I heard that a member had met a student who was at Princeton because he wasn’t academically strong enough to go to one of the Singaporean universities.
At a time when UK Plc. could do with the income, turning away international students who pay substantial fees and contribute to local economies doesn’t make financial sense. We should be warmly welcoming them and making it easier for them to choose the UK as a destination to study, in recognition of the positive contribution that they make.
On a more positive note, the Committee has recognised the benefits that international students bring to the whole of the UK and recommended that we should make the process easier for some international students to be able to move from a student to a work visa when they have completed university study.
However, this issue has been a running sore for a number of years now, so one can only assume that the government, through the Migration Advisory Committee, are wedded to an approach that ignores both common sense and the breadth of opportunity international students bring to the UK.
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