Education exports hit by migration policy
A policy that works against the national economic recovery has to change-surely?
Don’t bet on it
Edmund Lazarus, is a founding partner of City private equity company Bregal Capital which set up private schools company Cognita, with Chris Woodhead, in 2004. Lazarus is passionate about education and has very good contacts and access in the higher echelons of government. He is a friend and staunch supporter of Michael Gove ,the Education Secretary, and his reforms. State educated, Lazarus, who gained a First at Oxford, has retained a public-minded ethos, supporting charities in particular in the education sector, while deftly masterminding multi-million pound takeover deals. However, recently at a conference last month, organised by Education Investor, at BIS, he let rip over one aspect of government policy which he says is gravely undermining UK education exports- the restrictions being placed on international students coming to the UK. The message from speaker after speaker at this conference was that it was profoundly damaging to our image internationally and had already led to a drop in students particularly from India and Saudi. Word is out that it is difficult to get a visa, so many students are looking elsewhere. The London Met debacle has compounded the problem. As things stand most students are attracted to the States, and increasingly Canada, which is rapidly catching up with the UK. A UKTI representative at the conference said with breath-taking insouciance that his experience was that the UK education brand was alive and kicking and the Visa issue would not have any lasting effect. Nobody agreed. Mr Lazarus who was speaking at the conference said that no Cabinet Minister agreed with Theresa Mays stand and even she had doubts but was intent on sticking to a manifesto commitment to reduce net migration. Speakers were incredibly frustrated about the damage being done to UK plc Theresa May has squeezed migrant workers and students—the very people who are most likely to boost Britain’s economy, as well as the most likely to leave soon. Having committed themselves to a reduction in net migration—immigration minus emigration—to below 100,000 a year by 2015-the government is in a bind, with little or no room for manoeuvre in restricting EU immigration and asylum seekers the government is targeting students. The number of study visas handed out has plunged by 21% in a year. The government has made it harder to move from study to work, which in turn will deter foreign students from applying. So in short International education, one of the country’s most important export industries and an area where Britain should have a huge competitive advantage, is being starved. The Government says that that in fact the numbers of students from China is actually increasing. There has also been a 26% increase in students from Hong Kong and a 10% increase in students from Singapore. But what about India and the Middle East? There is a disjunction between what Vice Chancellors and those organisations that represent Higher Education Institutions are telling us and what Ministers are claiming.
Some business-minded Conservative MPs have begun to complain that the country’s immigration strategy is undermining its growth strategy. The Economist recently ran headlines such as ‘Britain’s Barmiest Policy’ and ‘Young Gifted and Foreign-Bugger orf’ It opined ‘As emerging countries grow, the enthusiasm of young, talented foreigners to get an education in a British university or to sell their wares to Britain’s relatively prosperous consumers is likely to diminish. For now, though, the country’s global popularity gives it a huge advantage, which the government is squandering. The world is a competitive place. Britain is trying to run with its shoelaces tied together.’ This policy is against the UKs interests and has limited support in the Cabinet. Given that the government is seeking export led growth it looks like a policy that has to change. But it looked like it had to change a year ago, and its still firmly in place. Once we lose these students and they find alternative places to study it will be very hard to retrieve the situation. The student grapevine will see to that.
The BIS Select Committee sensibly recommends that for domestic policy purposes, overseas students should be recorded under a separate classification and not be counted against the overall limit on net migration. That would provide a sensible route out of this crisis.