Labour promises to end Home Office "hostage" of universities

Chuka Umunna says the party will consider adopting a target for growth in foreign student numbers.

In his speech today on how Britain can succeed in (you guessed it) "the global race", David Cameron again boasted that the government had reduced net migration by more than a third. What he didn't say is that the fall has come at a significant economic cost. 

As IPPR's Sarah Mulley recently pointed out on The Staggers, the reduction in immigration has been driven by a fall in student numbers, with 56,000 fewer entering the UK (a 23 per cent drop) in the year to September 2012, something forecast to have cost the economy £725m (the sector is worth an estimated £8bn) .  

Cameron claims that the government has merely "shut down the bogus colleges that were a front for illegal immigration", but the figures show genuine students are being excluded. While visas issued to university students increased by 5 per cent in the year to March 2013, there was a 46 per cent decline in the number issued through further education colleges and English language schools (which act as large feeder institutions to universities) and a 7 per cent decline in those issued by private schools. As Jo Beall, the British Council director for education and society, has noted, "Many students use these courses as a step towards applying to our universities, so it presents a long-term risk if we diminish what was a big recruitment pool of students who had already chosen to study in the UK".

Fortunately, there are signs that Labour would end this economic self-harm. At the launch of IPPR's new report on higher education today, Chuka Umunna said that a future Labour government would consider reviving the initiative launched by Tony Blair which set "a clear numerical target for growth in international student numbers". 

"I’m certainly open to that and will talk to Yvette Cooper about [it]," he said.

He added: "My big problem with the government at the moment in this area is that our HE sector, as a strong and vibrant export sector, has been taken hostage by the Home Office. And it has to stop.

"It is doing deep and immense damage. We cannot afford for that to happen to a leading export sector, in the context of our balance of trade deficit."

If Labour wants to demonstrate how it would deliver growth where the government has failed, there are few better examples than this. 

Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna speaks at last year's Labour conference in Manchester. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Harriet Harman warns that the Brexit debate has been dominated by men

The former deputy leader hit out at the marginalisation of women's voices in the EU referendum campaign.

The EU referendum campaign has been dominated by men, Labour’s former deputy leader Harriet Harman warns today. The veteran MP, who was acting Labour leader between May and September last year, said that the absence of female voices in the debate has meant that arguments about the ramifications of Brexit for British women have not been heard.

Harman has written to Sharon White, the Chief of Executive of Ofcom, expressing her “serious concern that the referendum campaign has to date been dominated by men.” She says: “Half the population of this country are women and our membership of the EU is important to women’s lives. Yet men are – as usual – pushing women out.”

Research by Labour has revealed that since the start of this year, just 10 women politicians have appeared on the BBC’s Today programme to discuss the referendum, compared to 48 men. On BBC Breakfast over the same time period, there have been 12 male politicians interviewed on the subject compared to only 2 women. On ITV’s Good Morning Britain, 18 men and 6 women have talked about the referendum.

In her letter, Harman says that the dearth of women “fails to reflect the breadth of voices involved with the campaign and as a consequence, a narrow range [of] issues ends up being discussed, leaving many women feeling shut out of the national debate.”

Harman calls on Ofcom “to do what it can amongst broadcasters to help ensure women are properly represented on broadcast media and that serious issues affecting female voters are given adequate media coverage.” 

She says: "women are being excluded and the debate narrowed.  The broadcasters have to keep a balance between those who want remain and those who want to leave. They should have a balance between men and women." 

A report published by Loughborough University yesterday found that women have been “significantly marginalised” in reporting of the referendum, with just 16 per cent of TV appearances on the subject being by women. Additionally, none of the ten individuals who have received the most press coverage on the topic is a woman.

Harman's intervention comes amidst increasing concerns that many if not all of the new “metro mayors” elected from next year will be men. Despite Greater Manchester having an equal number of male and female Labour MPs, the current candidates for the Labour nomination for the new Manchester mayoralty are all men. Luciana Berger, the Shadow Minister for mental health, is reportedly considering running to be Labour’s candidate for mayor of the Liverpool city region, but will face strong competition from incumbent mayor Joe Anderson and fellow MP Steve Rotheram.

Last week, Harriet Harman tweeted her hope that some of the new mayors would be women.  

Henry Zeffman writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2015.