The Chancellor of Oxford University, Lord Patten, has urged the government to stop treating international students as “economic migrants”.
Patten blamed the government’s “obsession” with immigration number targets, which, he argued, it had failed to meet multiple times. Although this claim has been rejected by the Prime Minister, who has insisted on counting students in official immigration figures, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has backed excluding overseas students from the government’s target to get net migration down to the tens of thousands.
Immigration targets have previously helped the government crack down on bogus colleges used as a back route to work in Britain illegally.
However, Lord Patten warned about the detrimental impact of classing students in the same category as economic migrants.
Patten, who backed the UK remaining in the EU, referred to Theresa May’s speech outlining Brexit plans to build a “global Britain”.
He commented: “It would be extraordinary if having become global Britain we were to prevent the huge numbers of international students coming to study.
“Why do we deny ourselves, our universities, the benefits of educating more young people from around the world?”
He insisted that people understood the difference between a student and an immigrant and the contribution they made to the economy.
“So why do we behave so foolishly? Because of our fixation with an immigration target.
“We put higher education in a more difficult position, we cut ourselves from a great deal of economic benefits because of that obsession with an immigration target, which we fail to reach, very often because we are growing so rapidly, year after year.”
Patten emphasised growing demand in Asia for western higher education. He said: “We have made the choice, global Britain, to cut ourselves off from that. It’s completely crazy.”
This news comes amid comments from Oxford’s incoming Head of Brexit Strategy, Professor Alastair Buchan, speaking to the Education Select Committee held in Pembroke college, Oxford, two weeks ago, that a hard Brexit would be “giving up 500 to 950 years of exchange—I think we need to be very cautious.”
Carl Gergs, a third year at Pembroke and a German citizen, told Cherwell: “subjecting all international students to a blanket immigration rule in order to ‘clamp down’ on a misusing minority doesn’t seem very efficient at all. Most students are net economic contributors and enrich UK university life – some of them will be excluded or deterred by this system. I can only agree with Lord Patten that this approach is at odds with the vision of a ‘global Britain.’”
Steve Sangbeom Heo, international students’ rep at Brasenose college JCR told Cherwell: “I think it’s very unfortunate that the national mood’s becoming more and more insular. To be honest I can’t really think of a good reason why students should count as economic migrants nor understand what motivated May to argue for this other than political bluff to show that she’s ‘hard on immigration’. But I also think this is hardly surprising given that Theresa May’s currently trying so hard to pander to Brexiteers.”