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International students and net migration in the UK

Cavanagh, M, & Glennie, A. International students and net migration in the UK. Institute for Public Policy Research, London, 2012. Pages: 25.

This report recommends that international students should be excluded from overall net migration figures and included only at the point when they elect to stay on in the UK after study and so move to another migration category. The rationale behind this methodology is largely economic, as moves to limit incoming student numbers for the sake of long-term migration figures can put the higher education export market at risk. A survey of the top 10 countries of origin of international students in the UK suggests there is no international rule or standard preventing the UK from counting students in this way.

Most students leave the UK after studying, but only after staying in the country for a few years. As the current government is committed to reducing net migration, saving move to reduce the number of incoming students has been proposed as a means to achieve this goal, despite the fact that most international students make no contribution to long-term net migration. The authors of the report estimate that such a “reductionist” policy could cost the UK GBP two to three billion (EUR 2.5 to 3.5 billion) per year, i.e. the loss in economic contributions generated by the reduction of 50 000 international students per year. This would clearly be against the economic interests of the country.

Institute for Public Policy Research