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International students and specialist courses

For Nick Isles, recent ministerial comments about international students have been dangerously underinformed.
This article is more than 1 year old

Nick Isles is the chief executive officer at Condé Nast College of Fashion & Design.

It’s been widely reported (for instance in The Times) that the government is considering a cap on the number of foreign students allowed into the country as part of a drive to lower overall immigration.

This is clearly a panicked reaction to the news that net inward migration has reached an all-time of more than half a million souls.

Such a move would be economic vandalism, sacrificing one of the nation’s most successful methods of bringing in foreign cash on the altar of Brexit fundamentalism. Because make no mistake, the desperate dash to find ways to reduce immigrant numbers is essentially an attempt to disguise the truth that they have soared since we left the European Union.

Dependent story

The Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, says:

we have too many students coming into this country who are propping up, frankly, substandard courses in inadequate institutions.

Ms Braverman suggests many students are here for no better reason than to bring along hordes of family members to bask in Britain’s celebrated propensity to shower them with money and expensive public services to no benefit for the nation. Let’s look at those dependents first.

The Times article states that, for example, “Nigerians brought in by far the most dependants per applicant, with 50,631 bringing 51,637 dependants.” It’s an easy figure to object to, but where is the evidence of the economic impact of these families? What proportion of those 51,637 co-travellers are earning and paying tax, as opposed to those regarded as an unsustainable drain on the state? Where is the cost/benefit analysis? Without it, the statistic is meaningless.

Calculations of value

Turning to education, the Higher Education Policy Institute reports that the cash accrued to the UK from international students comes to just shy of £29 billion per year, or if you prefer, the equivalent of the entire budgets of the Home and Foreign Offices combined, with a little bit left over to pay for the Treasury and International Trade. Even by today’s inflationary standards, that’s still quite a lot of money.

At Condé Nast College of Fashion & Design, 70 per cent of our students come from overseas. Their value is not only measured in the money they spend on our courses. There is a real and indisputable need for quality, high calibre students in the creative industries, from wherever they come.

The Creative Industries Council has done some sums using data from the Department for Media, Culture and Sport, and reckons this sector produces about £104 billion per year (and steadily rising) for the UK – again, for context, equivalent to the budgets of the Departments for Education and Transport combined. This appears to be somewhat at variance with the Home Secretary’s understanding of the situation.

Rather than putting up the barricades, does it not make sense for Britain to welcome as many international students of potential as possible? Higher Education is one of the major USPs of our economy, and the university sector benefits greatly from being able to charge higher fees. The government is also missing a trick here in terms of a lucrative income stream. Why not institute a levy on the fees they pay – a learning windfall tax, if you will – to help subsidise our own hard-pressed domestic students who would also have to have safeguards built in to ensure they wouldn’t be crowded out?

Surely, we should be welcoming as many international students as we possibly can, given that the universities can charge those additional fees? As I say, we would have to toughen up the protections for the domestic intake, but if the overall number of students is allowed to rise, there is no reason why there shouldn’t be room for more young people from this country. It is a truism to say that education is one, if not the, key driver of growth. If you want, “Growth, growth, growth,” (as someone once famously said), you first need “Education, education, education” (although I suspect that is a phrase the Prime Minister may shy away from revisiting).

Low quality courses?

Ah, “but,” Ms Braverman would say, “Remember what I said about, ‘substandard courses in inadequate institutions.’”

The suggestion has been that only foreign students attending “elite” universities would still be admissible. So, no entry then to the FIFA Master course at De Montfort University, recently named the best postgraduate sports management course in Europe for a record tenth time. No room either on Aston University’s MSc in International Business which is rated the third best in the UK, as is its MSc in Entrepreneurship.

Precisely who is going to decide which courses are of sufficient merit to allow foreigners in, and which are not? This is a policy designed to promote division between academic institutions, to make them vie with each other for approval. As a sector, we cannot allow such infighting to blind us to what is a real and present danger to us all.

If it is adopted it will be an existential threat, not just to niche educators like Condé Nast College of Fashion & Design, but to many other institutions that are the very engines of economic development on which the nation relies to get us out of the economic mess in which we find ourselves.

2 responses to “International students and specialist courses

  1. Uk done with earning money from internation students now its time to kick them back home.Took so much money For health surcharge but worst service the provide.

  2. Moat of the foreign students and their dependants bring in and generate money that is used to pay benefits to the citizens.

    You tried it before with the stoppage of the Two years post-study work visa. It backfired. Most foreign students turned to Canada.

    Be practical and realistic in your analysis dear Home Secretary instead of trying to score some cheap political points.

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