Over the past couple of decades, international students have been increasingly seen as cash cows by universities, colleges and the government; especially as cuts to education have increased.
Despite the problematic views towards international students, most of us, at some point, believed we would be better off coming to the UK to further our education. A survey conducted by NUS revealed the primary reason for many to choose the UK as a destination was the quality of education. However, three of the top five reasons international students gave for coming to the UK to study were based around finding future employment, whether back in their home countries, globally or here in the UK.
The Government's new plans to take away the right of international Further Education (FE) students to work while studying, as well as forcing them to leave the country before even being able to apply for a higher education course or a job, will make it impossible to have a smooth progression upon leaving college. It will also limit their capacity to volunteer or undertake crucial course-based work placements. This is the latest in a long line of attacks handed down to international students by the Government. International students studying at private colleges had lost their right to work in 2011. Many expect the next step Home Office will take would be to deprive all international students from their right to work. We are in no doubt that these attacks are part of a much wider attempt to impinge on migrants' rights in the UK.
It is difficult to interpret the dismantling of migrants' rights as anything other than ideological policy making. For example, the Government claims that net student migration is at 70,000, but policy-makers currently rely on the International Passenger Survey (IPS) for this figure. The IPS is based on interviews of around 4,500 passengers entering and leaving the UK over a 12-month period only a small proportion of which are international students.
Based on this methodology, in 2009, the student route accounted for approximately 139,000 of a total of net (non-EU) migration of 184,000 (p36). Basing policy which would impact hundreds of thousands of people on a survey of 0.2 per cent of travellers with very few international students is unacceptable. Relying on such figures is a triumph of ideology over evidence.
The projection is that the number of international students coming to the UK will increase annually by 6 per cent over the next five years. In the face of the ruthless attacks to international students' rights including, but not limited to: scrapping the post-study work visa; charging for the NHS; introduction of biometric identity cards; landlord checks and now scrapping the right to work for FE students, I can guarantee this 6 per cent increase will not materialise. This government cannot treat international students the way it does and expect the UK to remain a desired destination for prospective students, considering the many more welcoming and supportive alternative options.
A comprehensive recent NUS survey shows 50.7 per cent of non-EU students surveyed think that the Government is either not welcoming or not at all welcoming towards international students. 19.4 per cent of non-EU students would not recommend the UK as a place to study for a friend or relative. This is higher for students from India (34.5 per cent), Nigeria (36.8 per cent), Pakistan (38.5 per cent), PhD students (23.5 per cent) and those with dependents (32.1 per cent). These are alarming statistics which will only continue to rise given the continued attacks on international students.
Many international students choose FE courses and private colleges as higher education can be prohibitively expensive. Taking away their right to work has and will leave many unable to afford an education here. It is an attack on the poorest and most vulnerable.
We are in no doubt that these attacks are part of a much bigger attack on migrants and their rights in the UK. We will be working with pro-migration organisations, international students and alongside home and EU students to fight these measures.