The British public do not see international students as “immigrants” and are opposed to reducing the number coming here, even if this would make it harder to reduce immigration numbers, according to new research released today by Universities UK and think-tank British Future.
The government should instead remove international students from the net migration target and support and challenge universities to attract more international students to study here, the report argues.
The new research poses a challenge to the government as it seeks to keep its promise to reduce net migration to “tens of thousands”. International students are the largest group of migrants from outside the EU counted in the government’s net migration figures, representing around a third of all people coming into Britain.
Yet only a fifth (22%) of people think of international students as “immigrants” at all.
Other findings include:
- When people are told that students are part of the target, “the most common reaction is surprise and even bafflement that international students are classified as immigrants at all,” the report says.
- New ICM polling conducted for the organisations finds that targeting international students would be unpopular and would fail to address public concerns about immigration. Six out of ten (59%) people say the government should not reduce the number of international students, even if this makes it harder to reduce immigration numbers. Only 22 per cent would support a reduction in international student numbers.
- Among Conservative voters, the figure was even higher, with two-thirds (66%) of Tories opposed to a reduction in international student numbers, compared to just 23 per cent who would reduce international student numbers so as to get immigration numbers down.
- The majority of people (75%) are in favour of allowing international students to stay on and work after they finish their degree. Support rises to 81% for Conservative voters.
- Sixty per cent think international students bring money into the local economy, compared to only 12 per cent who think they are a net drain on the local economy. Support rises to two-thirds (66%) of people living in university towns and nearly three quarters (72%) of Conservative voters.
- Sixty-one per cent agree that Britain’s universities would have less funding to invest in top-quality facilities and teaching without the higher fees paid by international students. Only seven per cent disagree.
Download the study here.