UK immigration 'panic' risks damaging higher education sector

29 May 2013 | Posted by Carl Thomas

Vince Cable, Britain's business secretary, has suggested that the "public panic" over the UK immigration debate is at risk of deterring overseas students.

Speaking at a Global University Summit in London, Mr Cable stated that it is "absurd" that the government and sections of the media and public should see a cut in overseas student numbers as a success. He explained that the higher education sector has the power to be an important driver of economic recovery, and expressed frustration that the debate around overseas students has been "caught up in this torrid and emotional argument about immigration".

The speech was given to an international gathering and sparked a variety of responses. Some have been glad to hear the viewpoint put across that overseas students are welcome and indeed needed in Britain, along with skilled workers. However, others, including Sir Andrew Green of Migration Watch, have accused Mr Cable of being "completely out of touch with public opinion".

There are no limits on the number of overseas students who can move to the UK, but the changes to UK visas for students have meant that some people have been deterred. The changes have been driven by a movement to stop the misuse of student visas, but they have also made it harder for students to make their way through university and restricted the employment options open to them.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, also contributed to the speech, stating that he also believes overseas students are of great economic value to the UK, noting that in London alone they bring in around £870 million in tuition fees.

He urged universities to be "even bolder" in promoting what they have to offer around the world.