Sunak’s curbs on foreign students could meet resistance

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Braverman is in fact opposed to freer movement of people from India to the UK, which is one of the Indian government’s demands in the current negotiations over a free trade agreement with the UK…writes Ashish Ray

British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak’s reported plan to restrict foreign students to premier universities in the UK could meet resistance from his chancellor of the exchequer, Jeremy Hunt.

Hunt told media immigration was required to boost growth, adding there had to be “a long-term plan if we’re going to bring down migration in a way that doesn’t harm the economy”.

Besides, the British government’s department of education could also raise objections, as the contemplated cut-down would increase state funding of universities, who otherwise benefit from high fee-paying international students.

The chairman of Whitehall’s Migration Advisory Committee, Brian Bell, said in an interview to BBC that the idea said to be in Sunak’s in-tray could “send many universities over the edge”.

“Most universities for most courses lose money on teaching British students and offset that loss by charging more for international students,” Bell emphasised.

Indians constitute the largest contingent of foreign students in the UK at present. If the restriction being mulled over by Sunak becomes policy, they are likely to be the worst sufferers.

New figures disclosed net migration had exceeded half a million – an increase of 300,000 in a single year. Among additional, the steps Sunak is believed to be considering is a clamp down on visas for dependents of overseas students.

Sunak’s hard line Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, previously expressed concern about foreign students “bringing in family members who can piggyback onto their student visa”. According to her, they undertake “substandard courses in inadequate institutions”.

Earlier, in an interview to The Spectator magazine, she accused Indians of being the biggest illegal over-stayers in the UK.

Braverman is in fact opposed to freer movement of people from India to the UK, which is one of the Indian government’s demands in the current negotiations over a free trade agreement with the UK.

However, the right-wing, inward looking Conservative party are happy about their 42-year-old new Prime Minister contemplating curbing the intake of foreign students to reduce immigration. At the same time, some of his MPs are already beginning to give up on him.

One such lawmaker who won from a constituency that was formerly an opposition Labour party stronghold in the north of England, commented to the pro-Conservative Daily Mail newspaper: “Rishi would be a decent project manager. Or senior civil servant. But he’s not a natural Prime Minister. He’s just not the sort of guy you want to follow out of the trenches.”

Meanwhile, the UK’s National Grid issued its first emergency warning about a winter blackout. And inflation is soaring. “But”, the Daily Mail, highly influential among Conservatives, said: “The Prime Minister was absent. Or, if not exactly absent, busy elsewhere.”

Sunak recently visited Kiev to pledge 125 anti-aircraft guns to Ukraine in its fight against Russia.

As economic hardship bites, a majority Britons are seemingly beginning to tire of the war, which wasn’t the case in the summer.

In the Mail’s opinion: “After the unrelenting bombast of the Boris Johnson years, and the frenetic mayhem that was the month of Truss, such reflective disengagement may be welcome… But the country is experiencing a growing sense of crisis. And what it needs isn’t a manager, but a leader.”

It headlined elsewhere: “Dire warning for ‘tainted’ Tories (Conservatives) as bombshell polling reveals Sir Keir Starmer (Labour leader) is ahead of Rishi Sunak on 11 out of 12 key issues – including cost of living, NHS (National Health Service), immigration and Brexit.”

Indian group urges govt to resolve issue

An Indian diaspora-led students’ organisation on Friday urged the UK government to remove international students from the country’s overall immigration statistics amid unconfirmed reports that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak may be considering a crackdown on foreigners granted study visas.

According to some UK media reports, Sunak is mulling a crackdown on foreign students bringing dependents and studying so-called low-quality degrees at mediocre UK universities after the country’s net migration figures hit record levels.

Downing Street has indicated that “all options” to bring overall migrant numbers down are on the table. The National Indian Students and Alumni Union (NISAU) UK, which campaigns for streamlined provisions for Indian students studying in the UK, said any move to arbitrarily rank universities would prove counterproductive in the long run.

“Students who are in the UK temporarily, should not be counted as migrants,” said NISAU UK Chair Sanam Arora.

“International students, of which Indians are the biggest cohort, bring a net revenue of GBP 30 billion into the British economy and go back as friends of the UK, furthering ties of trade, culture, and diplomacy. The UK’s higher education sector is one of our largest exports to the world, and we are hopeful that the government will ensure that there is no arbitrary definition of what counts as a ‘top’ university,” she said.

The group called for a “creative and innovative policy solution” that addresses the UK’s skills and labour shortages through its international graduates. The Universities UK International (UUKi), which represents over 140 UK universities, also sounded a note of caution over any policy moves to cut down international student numbers as a potential act of self-harm and pile on additional financial pressures on universities.

“Cutting international student numbers would run directly counter to the UK government’s strategy to welcome more students from around the world,” said UUKi Chief Executive Vivienne Stern. “International students make an enormous cultural and financial contribution to the UK. They help make our campuses and cities the vibrant, thought-provoking places they are known for being. They sustain jobs in towns and cities up and down the country,” she said.

“Beyond this, the financial contribution they make has been very significant for UK universities. Limiting international students would be an act of self-harm that would damage many parts of the UK,” she added. The concerns arise in the wake of the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures this week revealing net migration to the UK rose from 173,000 in the year to June 2021, to 504,000 in the year to June 2022 – an increase of 331,000 post-Brexit.

International students were a large contributory factor to this spike, with Indians overtaking Chinese students as the largest cohort of student visas for the first time. The Conservative Party-led UK government has a manifesto commitment to reduce migration “overall”, something reiterated in recent weeks and months by UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman. She has previously expressed worries about foreign students bringing in dependent family members who “piggyback” on a student visa and is believed to be looking at proposals to tackle the issue.

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