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Business, students and politicians defend international students at ‘stand up and don’t be counted’ rally


Business, politicians, universities, colleges and students are standing up and demanding that international students are not counted in the government’s net migration target.

Influential figures including Vince Cable, MP for Twickenham and Leader of Liberal Democrats, Tulip Siddiq, MP for Hampstead and Kilburn and Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of The Green Party, alongside business leaders such as Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of London First, and Russ Shaw, founder, Tech London Advocates, are joining students and academics at a rally in Torrington Square today.

New data released by the organisers of the event, business group London First, shows the majority of people (57%) believe that international students should not be included in the government’s net migration target, with less than one in three people (31%) thinking they should be included.

In fact, there is majority support for removing students from the target across all age groups and from around the country, including over half of Conservative Party voters (52%).

Today’s rally is accompanied with a letter published by London First, signed by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, the NUS and chief executives of leading UK businesses.

International students contribute a huge amount to the UK economy, generating up to £20bn a year for the economy and supporting over 200,000 jobs[1]. In London alone, international students generate a net benefit of £2.3 billion each year and support 70,000 jobs[2]. This makes higher education one of the UK’s most successful exports.

Naomi Smith, executive director of campaigns at London First said: “After raising the issue in China, Theresa May should send the world a clear message that international students are valued, supported and encouraged to seek success here. But actions speak louder than words and herding them into a net migration target says the opposite.

“Support for taking students out of the target is overwhelming, from politicians, businesses and voters across the political spectrum – so this is a straightforward chance for Theresa May to go to the top of the class, sending a clear message that we are open to talent and supporting higher education, one of the UK’s most successful exports. It’s time to take students out of the net migration target.”

Tulip Siddiq MP said: “It is impossible to imagine our world-class universities without international students. They sustain and enhance the courses that they attend and play a focal role in campus life.

“From those leading ground-breaking research projects, to those simply participating in campus sports and societies, the contribution of international students is obvious and goes well beyond their support for the British economy.

“I am therefore delighted to support London First and their efforts to rally behind international students living and learning in the UK.”

Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green Party said: “Including international students in the net migration target sends the wrong message. Students are people, not numbers, and they contribute just as much to Britain as they gain from studying here. Britain’s education system is something to be proud of but it has been built with the help of academics and students from other countries. We must recognise this by continuing to welcome them. That means dropping students from the net migration target as first step towards ending the Government’s hostile environment for migrants.”

Professor David Latchman, Master of Birkbeck, University of London, said: “International students are a sizeable and important part of the higher education eco-system. It is vital that we make them feel welcome and do not put up barriers, in order to maintain the vibrancy of the sector and the economic contribution they make to universities and the wider community.”

Mary Vine-Morris, London Director at the Association of Colleges, said: “The government’s own data shows that international students play by the rules, coming here to learn and then returning home after their course is completed. So including them in a net migration target is a policy left over from a different time. We should be welcoming international students and the huge contribution they make to our colleges and universities.”

As we leave the EU, it is vital Britain forged strong trading partnerships – encouraging international students to study here will help as 60% of international students and alumni of UK universities saying they are more likely to do business with the UK having studied here.  Britain has also educated more serving heads of state at university level than any other country in world – increasing our soft power around the world.[3]






 Letter from the Mayor of London, National Union of Students, Royal College of Midwives and London business

Time to admit that international students are not the target

The contribution that international students make to our institutions, economy, local communities and global standing is clear. It’s time to take them out of the government’s net migration target.

The government is right to clamp down on any bogus activity and the steps they’ve already taken mean we can be confident that over 97% of international students play by the rules, coming here to learn and returning home after their studies.

Now it is time to move the debate on and focus on growing one of our most successful exports. The government has been clear there is no cap on the number of international students who can come to study in the UK. But continuing to include them in the net migration target sends the opposite message.

Reporting better data would provide clarity and build trust in how the government is managing migration.

The next step should then be to build on the government’s welcome recent move to give international masters students more time to find a graduate job in the UK, and to reintroduce a post-study work visa. British educated overseas talent is an asset and this would make our country more competitive as we seek to make the best of life outside the EU.

It’s time for the Prime Minister to accept that international students are not the target, commit to smarter data and protect one of our major export sectors, sending a strong message that the UK is serious in its ambition to invest in international education.

Signed by:

Jasmine Whitbread, CEO of London First

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London

Martin Brok, EMEA President at Starbucks

Shakira Martin, President, and Yinbo Yu, International Students’ Officer, at the National Union of Students

Mark Reynolds, CEO of Mace

Jon Skewes, Director of Policy, Employment Relations and Communications at the Royal College of Midwives

John Kampfner, CEO of Creative Industries Federation

Ken Shuttleworth, Founding Partner, Make

Jane Glanville, CEO of London Higher

George Iacobescu, CEO of Canary Wharf Group

Rob Perrins, Chief Executive of the Berkeley Group

Mark Barnett, Divisional President of UK, Ireland, Nordics and Baltic at Mastercard

John Holland-Kaye, CEO of Heathrow

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