The government is considering changing the way in which it measures UK immigration figures for students.
The coalition announced its plans to lower the migration figures down to the tens of thousands by the end of its time in parliament. However, higher education establishments have been campaigning to have students removed from these figures almost since the plans were announced.
Discussions came to a head this month when the UK Border Agency (UKBA) removed London Metropolitan University's Highly Trusted Sponsor status. The government agency claimed that the university failed to make the proper checks on overseas students to ensure that they had the right to live and study in the country and as such the university lost its right to recruit students from outside of the EU.
Now, Universities Minister David Willets has told university leaders at a meeting in Keel that the Office for National Statistics (ONS) is looking into ways to “better count students in immigration flows”.
This is thought to mean that there will be more accurate records
kept of the number of students coming into and leaving the country. The hope among universities is that the government will then relax its position on student visas and allow people from outside the EU more flexible rights during their time as students in the UK.
At the moment, the government only has a rough estimate of how many students are in the country and how many leave immediately after completing their study, making it hard to develop valid legislation in this area.
Mr Willetts stated: “Without international students, we would not only be poorer economically – we would also be more boring, more insular, and more ignorant of the wider world.
“That is why transparency in the immigration statistics is vital. We therefore want to publicise disaggregated figures so that the debate can be better informed. The ONS is planning improvements in its methodology so that in future it will be possible to better identify students in the emigration flows.”