Boris Johnson has become the most senior Conservative politician to publicly highlight the damage the government's policy to reduce net migration is doing to international students. On Monday, he wrote to both Theresa May and Vince Cable backing a campaign to exclude students from the government's targets.
Johnson should be thanked for publicly campaigning on this and I support the aims and objectives laid out by him in his letter. It's so important that politicians reach a broad consensus on the issue and that the UK changes its policies for international students. It is for this reason that, tribute should be paid to the cross-party work that both Labour MP Paul Blomfield and Conservative MP Nadhim Zahwai have done on this issue.
Immigration has become a hot potato for all political parties and international students have been inadvertently placed at the heart of the government's policy. The only way the government can meet its net migration target is by reducing the levels of legitimate students. Given the immense negative impact this policy has had on international students and universities - it is imperative that the issue be approached and reviewed in a non-partisan manner. Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives need to find a way to get out of this together. Boris Johnson's actions should be treated as an olive branch by the Opposition.
Boris has laid out three important policy changes which should be supported. First, international students should be removed from the government's net migration targets. Second, measures should be introduced to protect international students if their institution loses their sponsor license. Third, an education exports commission should be set up.
The first two policy recommendations are uncontroversial. The government's net migration target has been the reason for a raft of extraneous changes which has severely limited the rights of international students studying in the UK. The IPPR think tank highlighted this in quite detail in a recent report. The second is long overdue given what happened at London Met and more importantly- what's happened at dozens, if not hundreds, of private colleges.
The third policy recommendation needs to be picked apart more. What the UK urgently needs is not just a commission to examine the overseas impact of policy, but a coherent strategy from government for international students. The UK had a successful and coherent strategy under the Prime Minister's Initiative for International Education which brought together all stakeholders under a common goal and quantifiably improved the lives of international students in the UK.
What's important now is how these recommendations by the Mayor of London will be taken forward by the Home Office. Whilst the change in rhetoric is refreshing, the reality is the same gloomy narrative for international students. Real change is needed soon before the UK's reputation is irreversibly tarnished.
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