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Interventionism is suddenly all the rage with the Westminster Conservative government, and higher education is feeling the impact as new policies and legislation are brought to bear on the sector, writes Johnny Rich, Chief Executive of Push and of the Engineering Professors’ Council.
An Early Day Motion signed by 36 MPs has called on the government to remove international students from the UK's target to reduce net migration.
The motion, tabled by Paul Blomfield, the Labour MP for Sheffield and a member of the Business, Innovation and Skills select committee, raises concerns about the “dramatic drop” in students enrolling to study in the UK from some of its major international trading partners.
It points out the public does not generally view international students as migrants and has no wish to see a fall in their numbers.
According to a survey commissioned by Universities UK last year, members of the public were "surprised and even baffled" that international students were classified as 'immigrants' for the purposes of government migration figures.
Of those surveyed, 59% said that the government should not reduce the number of international students, even if this made it harder to reduce overall immigration numbers. This figure was even higher amongst Conservative voters, with 66% opposing a reduction in the number of international students.
The higher education sector has campaigned hard against the policy. In the summer, Lord Heseltine, the former deputy prime minister, added his voice to the growing call for international students to be removed from the net migration figures. He warned that the government risked damaging the UK's reputation abroad and said that any drop in foreign student numbers would have a "serious" impact on university finances.
Pam Tatlow, the Chief Executive of the new university think tank Million+, said: “The Early Day Motion is another way of drawing attention to the issue, and the party political differences on this. It is notable that as of this morning, only two Conservative MPs had signed it, as against 34 Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs."
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