A new All-Party Group for International Students will be launched this month (May) to focus parliamentary attention on issues affecting foreign students in the UK, a senior MP told education attachés as a recent LEARN meeting at the Malaysian High Commission.
Paul Blomfield MP, who sits on the Business Innovation and Skills Select Committee, said international students were “an asset” in need of protection. They enriched British universities by affording UK students the opportunity to learn in a multinational campus which was a “brilliant preparation” for a globalised world.
Many international students were involved in ground-breaking research in collaboration with UK companies which was of “huge benefit”, he added.
Blomfield remarked that many international leaders had been educated in Britain, contributing “immeasurably” to Britain’s ‘soft power’.
The financial benefit of foreign students is not to be underestimated – in Sheffield alone, the 10,000 international students on the two university campuses are worth about £140m to the local economy, and support around 7000-8000 jobs in the city, said Blomfield.
Given the benefits of international students Blomfield said he, along with other like-minded parliamentarians, had been involved “in combat” with the Home Office to try, so far unsuccessfully, to persuade it to exclude foreign students from the net migration numbers.
Blomfield said entangling international students in the difficult domestic debate on migration was having a negative impact on Britain’s ability to attract talented students.
“We are losing market share in this country as regards overseas students but the government is very complacent because our numbers are stable. There are a number of government policies that have been discouraging – language testing, visa process, closure of the post-study work route, on which [the BIS Select Committee] produced a parliamentary report.”
Blomfield said the APG would provide “a focus and a voice” on all these issues. He added that once the APG is up and running that it would be useful to have an exchange with education attachés.
Universities and EU Referendum
Blomfield also discussed the upcoming EU referendum. He told diplomats that the UK “disproportionately benefits” from EU funding due to the quality of UK higher education and UK-based research.
Owing to the importance of EU membership for UK higher education, Universities UK has set up Universities for Europe to get the student vote out. It is encouraging students who are overwhelmingly in favour of the EU but are less likely to vote, to register to vote and make sure their voting papers are delivered to the correct place so that they can participate.