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Slamming the door on international students does nothing for the UK

Friday 09-01-2015 - 11:44

There’s a brief sigh of relief this week with the news that the UK government appear to have vetoed the Home Office’s proposal to make international students leave the country and return home if they want to make an application to stay the UK.

Roza Salih is NUS Scotland's International Students Officer

Although this measure hasn't been taken forward, it doesn’t reverse a long campaign by many governments and parties against international students, and immigrants more generally, which we still need to do so much more to tackle.   

NUS and Universities UK were united in warning that that the proposals, mooted by Theresa May, risked increasing the perception that Britain does not welcome international students. In 2011-12 the number of overseas students taking up places at UK universities fell for the first time in 29 years, evidence that international students are thinking twice about studying in the UK. 

On a basic level, restricting international students makes no economic sense, something which successive governments claim to be their top priority. Statistics show that international students generate more taxes.  Moreover, international students contribute £12.5 billion per year to the UK economy, providing £3.2 billion to the UK economy in 2013 from fee income alone.1

International students offer much more to the UK than their financial contribution, in fact they provide innumerable benefits to the UK in their social contribution; the cultural enrichment they offer for campuses and communities; and the skills and knowledge they add to our country. International students should be welcomed and education should be accessible to anyone that wishes to study abroad for however long that may be.

Even without the horrific proposals mooted over the past few weeks, the new Immigration Bill that comes into effect soon contains a number of worrying parts such as NHS charges, visa restrictions and landlords checks when renting (a pilot of the latter proposal is already under way in Birmingham), and there remains an ongoing political rhetoric focused on the need to further and significantly restrict the numbers of people wanting to come to the UK. 
 
Any and all of these measures, after international students have given so much to study here, sends an message that they aren’t welcome here, with significant barriers to coming to the UK and enriching it culturally, socially and financially. Are these really the types of approach we want to see in the UK? As a result of these measures taken, the UK will lose out as international students will look elsewhere to study at competitive states such as Canada and Australia and America. 

The recent Smith Commission process, which has set a framework for further devolution for Scotland, included the possibility for Scotland to get the power to bring back post-study work visas for international students studying in Scotland. This is a very significant move, and one that NUS Scotland will continue campaigning on, ensuring it becomes a reality, for the benefit not just of international students but all those people and communities their contributions benefit. 

1 http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmpublic/immigration/memo/ib46.htm

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