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23 December 2014updated 24 Jul 2021 7:03am

Former Tory universities minister slams Theresa May’s plan to curb overseas student numbers

The former universities and science minister, David Willetts, blasts the Home Secretary's proposal for a student visa overhaul.

By Anoosh Chakelian

It was reported this week, as part of proposals apparently mooted so far for the Conservatives’ 2015 manifesto, that the Home Secretary plans for overseas students to leave the UK and reapply for work visas once they’ve completed their studies.

Today, the Tories’ former universities and science minister, who left the cabinet table in July this year, has condemned these plans in an article for The Times. Its headline reads: “May’s mean-spirited plan will damage Britain”.

He writes:

We have already tightened up the rules and cracked down on bogus colleges to stop our student visa regime being exploited. But eventually you reach a tipping point. A further tightening of post-study work, as floated by the Home Office at the weekend, would do real damage to our universities and drive away overseas students. Indeed the Indian papers followed up yesterday with headlines such as “UK government plans to kick out foreign graduates”.

Willetts dismisses May’s idea to deport students once they’ve finished their degrees “mean-spirited and inward looking”, and calls students studying abroad “an expanding global market” that Britain should keep, and increase, its share of.

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Willetts, a veteran Tory frontbencher, is a respected figure (his nickname is “Two Brains”, and he has written a number of well-received political books) and his remarks will prove embarrassing for the Home Secretary if the Tories decide to go ahead and put this proposal on their manifesto for the next election. Her plan to curb overseas students is being seen as gesture politics, to look tough on immigration to the UK, and mark herself out from other potential contenders for the Tory leadership.