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Chancellor George Osborne has reportedly stepped in to block Home Secretary Theresa May's plans to send foreign graduates home on completion of their studies.
Senior Tories have said May's proposal, which has been strongly criticised by vice-chancellors and business leaders including inventor James Dyson, will not be included in the Conservative election manifesto.
May had defended the plans, arguing that something needed to be done about the high numbers of international students who remained in Britain after graduating. Without action, the UK would be admitting 600,000 overseas students a year by 2020, she told MPs.
But a senior Tory official has reportedly told the Financial Times that the Conservatives will stick to their policy of allowing international graduates to stay if they find a graduate-level job paying at least £24,000 a year.
Inventor James Dyson had added his voice to those opposing Home Secretary Theresa May's plans. In a Guardian article, he said the science and engineering sectors are in serious need of qualified graduates, including those from overseas, in order to drive new developments and breakthroughs in technology.
Dyson's comments followed criticism of May's proposals from vice-chancellors and former universities minister David Willetts, who described the plans as "mean spirited".
According to the Sunday Times, the Home Secretary wanted a future Conservative government to move towards "zero net student migration", which would mean overseas graduates would no longer be allowed to remain in Britain to work. They would be required to return home immediately, and then apply for a fresh visa to re-enter the UK.
May would also expect UK universities and colleges to ensure that all overseas students complied with the new rules. Institutions that failed to do so would be fined and stripped of their right to sponsor foreign students, according to the newspaper.
Responding to the news, Universities UK Chief Executive Nicola Dandridge had said the reported plans would be damaging for Britain as well as British universities.
"Clamping down on genuine international students would not only damage our universities, but would also damage our economy. If the UK is to remain internationally competitive, it should be looking to broaden, not limit, the opportunities for qualified international graduates to stay in the UK to work for a period and contribute to the economy. Our competitors such as Australia and the US are doing all they can to keep their highly skilled and highly motivated international graduates and we should be doing the same," she said.
A recent ICM poll showed that three quarter of British people and 81 per cent of Conservative voters are in favour of allowing international graduates to stay in the UK and work for a period after completing their studies.
Ms Dandridge added: "Our world-class higher education sector is one of the UK’s outstanding success stories. The evidence shows the perception of a country’s attitude towards international students is a major factor in those students’ decisions as to where to study. Such proposals would risk increasing the perception the UK does not welcome international students. These are damaging proposals."
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