November 28, 2013 12:02 am

Number of overseas students falls by a third

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The number of international students coming to the UK has fallen by nearly a third since the coalition came to power, putting Britain at risk of permanently losing its status as a leading study destination, research has warned.

A report by the left-leaning Institute for Public Policy Research blames Home Office policies aimed at cutting net migration and “confusing” rules about the rights of students for discouraging overseas pupils from Britain’s education institutions. While the UK remains the second most popular destination for international students after the US, its market share has declined even as other competitors have increased or retained their share.

The report – which comes out ahead of official net migration statistics – estimates that foreign students contribute around £13bn to Britain’s economy and generate around 70,000 jobs. But its authors suggest there is a fundamental conflict at the heart of government with the Home Office trying to drive down student numbers while the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is seeking to boost the number of international students in higher education by 15 to 20 per cent over the next five years.

Within the 29 per cent decline in student visas issued during the course of this government, the greatest falls have been in the numbers of students from Pakistan, which have dropped by 62 per cent, India, which has dropped by 38 per cent and Bangladesh which has dropped by 30 per cent.

Alice Sachrajda, IPPR research fellow, said that although the UK should be hanging out a banner saying “foreign students welcome here”, instead it was doing the opposite.

“We are pursuing policies which could cause lasting damage to a sector of our economy worth £13bn and in which the UK is a world leader,” Ms Sachrajda said.

“The reduction in foreign student numbers is being driven by the net migration target, which is designed to meet the public’s concern about high immigration,” she added. “But foreign students are not the focus of that concern because, as the report shows, they come for a relatively short time, go home after their studies and contribute much more than they take out while they are here.”

David Cameron has said repeatedly during visits to India that, while bogus students are being flushed out of the system, there is no limit on the number of genuine foreign students admitted to Britain.

Responding to the IPPR report, the Home Office said that international students made an “important contribution” to the UK economy and that Britain’s education system was “one of the best in the world”.

“To maintain this reputation it is vital we tackle the widespread abuse of the student visa system we saw in the past, while making sure Britain remains open for business,” a spokeswoman said.

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