Despite Nick Clegg's efforts, the number of new students from India has fallen by 49 per cent. Photo: Flickr
Show Hide image

The British public embraces foreign students; politicians should do so too

The public’s views on immigration are more nuanced than is often assumed.

The government likes to give the impression that it is cracking down on immigrants. The attempts extend to those who might better be thought of as paying guests: foreign students.

They have been among the biggest losers of David Cameron’s notorious pledge to reduce net immigration to “tens of thousands”. Since 2010, changes to the student visa system, including limiting opportunities for post-study work, imposing a maximum length of study time and significant increases in the cost of applications have made Britain a less attractive place for the best and brightest foreign students.

Between 2010-11 and 2012-13, the number of new students from India fell by 49 per cent, with almost as large a decrease from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia too. This has been somewhat masked by increased demand from China, but the number of non-EU students starting courses fell from 174,225 in 2010–11 to 171,910 in 2012–13, ending a long-term trend of growth.

Britain is in no position to reject the benefits of foreign students. It’s broadly agreed that the overall economic benefit is several billion pounds per year, but the precise amount is contested,” says Dr Carlos Vargas Silva, a Senior Researcher at the Migration Observatory at Oxford University. A study by Universities UK this year said that the equivalent of 136,000 full-time British jobs could be attributed to the enrolment of non-EU students at British universities. And, at a time when universities are facing cuts, the fees paid by foreign students contribute both to maintaining the quality of the country’s universities and improving access schemes for disadvantaged pupils.

There is also a wider point. Lord Heseltine yesterday said that there was "no doubt" students educated at UK universities went on to become "ambassadors" for the UK. The bonds foreign students develop with Britain benefit the country’s ‘soft power’ and clout, and help to facilitate future trade and business agreements.

And curbs on foreign students are not even popular. A new report from British Future reveals that 59 per cent of the public says the government should not reduce international student numbers, even if that limits the government’s ability to cut immigration numbers overall; just 22 per cent disagree. Only 22 per cent of the public thinks that international students should count as migrants and – perhaps most surprisingly – fully 75 per cent think that international students should be allowed to stay and work in Britain after graduating.

These figures are significant. They reveal that, when it comes to immigration, the public’s views are rather more nuanced than is often assumed. Politicians who support skilled immigration but are often too timid to make their views public should take note.

It also suggests there may be a little wriggle room for the Conservatives. The most recent figures put annual net migration at 212,000, more than double what the Tories hoped it would be by the next election. Excluding foreign students from the total would reduce total net migration and bring them closer to their target in 2010. By how much is not entirely clear – Robert McNeil of Oxford University’s Migration Observatory describes the figures as a “quagmire”. It would also make it easier for economically damaging policies against foreign students to be halted. But these reasons seem less compelling set against Conservative fears that the decision would be attacked, especially by Ukip, as an admittance of failure to deliver on immigration.

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.

Show Hide image

Casting the Brexit movie that is definitely real and will totally happen

Details are yet unclear as to whether The Bad Boys of Brexit will be gracing our screens, or just Farage's vivid imagination.

Hollywood is planning to take on the farcical antics of Nigel Farage et al during the UK referendum, according to rumours (some suspect planted by a starstruck Brexiteer). 

Details are yet unclear as to whether The Bad Boys of Brexit will be gracing our big or small screens, a DVD, or just Farage's vivid imagination, but either way here are our picks for casting the Hollywood adaptation.

Nigel Farage: Jim Carrey

The 2018 return of Alan Partridge as "the voice of hard Brexit" makes Steve Coogan the obvious choice. Yet Carrey's portrayal of the laughable yet pure evil Count Olaf in A Series of Unfortunate Events makes him a serious contender for this role. 

Boris Johnson: Gerard Depardieu

Stick a blonde wig on him and the French acting royalty is almost the spitting image of our own European aristocrat. He has also evidently already mastered the look of pure shock necessary for the final scene of the movie - in which the Leave campaign is victorious.

Arron Banks: Ricky Gervais

Ricky Gervais not only resembles Ukip donor Arron Banks, but has a signature shifty face perfect for the scene where the other Brexiteers ask him what is the actual plan. 

Gerry Gunster: Anthony Lapaglia

The Bad Boys of Brexit will reportedly be told from the perspective of the US strategist turned Brexit referendum expert Gerry Gunster. Thanks to recurring roles in both the comedy stalwart Frasier, and the US crime drama Without a Trace, Anthony Lapaglia is versatile enough to do funny as well as serious, a perfect mix for a story that lurches from tragedy to farce. Also, they have the same cunning eyes.

Douglas Carswell: Mark Gatiss

The resemblance is uncanny.

David Cameron: Andrew Scott

Andrew Scott is widely known for his portrayal of Moriarty in Sherlock, where he indulges in elaborate, but nationally destructive strategy games. The actor also excels in a look of misplaced confidence that David Cameron wore all the way up to the referendum. Not to mention, his forehead is just as shiny. He'll have to drink a lot of Bollinger to gain that Cameron-esque puppy fat though. 

Kate Hoey: Judi Dench

Although this casting would ruin the image of the much beloved national treasure that is Judi Dench, if anyone can pull off being the face of Labour Leave, the incredible actress can.