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Rise in overseas STEM students would mean fall in other foreign intakes

The UK's new Immigration Minister James Brokenshire has told peers that a rise in the number of overseas science students coming to Britain would need to be balanced by a drop in other immigrant numbers – including other types of students.

Replying to questions from the Lords Science and Technology Committee, Mr Brokenshire said the Government would welcome a reversal of the recent drop in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) students from the Indian subcontinent.

But he agreed that – due to the Government’s intention to include international students in net migration targets – a rise in international STEM student numbers would trigger a need to cut numbers of other international students and non-student immigrants.

Mr Brokenshire was giving evidence at the final session for the committee’s inquiry on International STEM students – which seeks to examine the impact of Government policy on numbers of overseas students coming to the UK to study STEM subjects.

In particular, the inquiry seeks to investigate a significant drop in numbers of Indian and Pakistani STEM students.

According to Government figures, there has been a drop in Indian students coming to the UK to take computer science degrees from 4,000 to 1,000 since 2008-2009. During the same period, numbers taking engineering and technology degrees were halved to about 2,000.

Replying to a question from committee member Lord Peston on whether a reversal of this trend would mean numbers of other students and non-students being cut back, Mr Brokenshire said: “That is the overall balance in terms of how you would achieve the overall net migration number.”

But he added: “Yes, I'm happy to attract students to the university sector – that is part of our focus on growth to the economy.”

Mr Brokenshire said students coming to study at UK universities should be prioritised above those taking other immigration routes into the UK.

“What we seek to do is to bring net migration from unsustainable levels down to more sustainable levels - in the tens of thousands each year,” he said.

“I think you can establish the policy of reducing net migration down to those levels while at the same attracting the brightest and the talented to the university sector.

“I think our policies are calibrated to achieve that, and I will continue to support activities in countries like India to see that we continue to have legitimate students coming here to study.”

He said it was important to include overseas students in net migration numbers as the student visa routes had been open to abuse in the past - but he admitted he did not have specific evidence that STEM degrees were being targeted for fraudulent student visa applications.

The committee is due to publish its report on International STEM students in April.