Government advisers revealed that overseas students from outside Europe could be cut by more than half if the coalition is to reach its target for reducing net migration. Home Secretary Theresa May’s  migration advisory committee (MAC) claimed on Thursday 18 November that overseas students and family reunion cases will have to face as much as an 80 percent cut if the coalition is to reach its target to reduce the figure of 196,000 to as little as 20,000.

The chairman of MAC, Professor David Metcalf, commented that this could mean cutting the current annual flow of 163,000 overseas students from outside Europe by 87,000 with deep cuts also necessary in the 55,000 people who come to join their families settled in the UK. However, Metcalf pointed out that work-related migration has halved since 2004 while those coming to study had grown substantially.

He said that the government’s goal hinted at a 146,000 reduction in annual net migration within the next four years. “Overseas students would have to bear 60 percent of the cut while family reunion cases, currently running at 55,000 would have to take the remaining 20 percent. The University of Sussex stated that “there are still no firm details about the proposed review of Tier 4 of the Points Based System (PBS)- the student visa route- so figures at the moment are speculation. “The Home Secretary has indicated that any curbs are likely to affect courses below degree level and that she is not intending to do anything to prevent coming to the UK to study degree level courses or above.”

The university added they would “make sure that the Government appreciates that about 30 percent of international students in UK higher education are recruited from schools and colleges within the UK. We would be very concerned and opposed to any moves that would limit suitably qualified and able students coming through those routes.” The university has said that it will continue to work with representative bodies, such as Universities UK (UUK) and the UK Council for International Student Affairs, to make sure that the “Government understands these concerns.”

The university echoed the statement from the UUK on 18 November: “It is of course essential that we have effective immigration controls. But those controls must not lead to our world-class universities being damaged and our international reputation becoming one of insularity and not welcoming international staff and student mobility.” Income from overseas students’ fees totalled more than £2.2bn to British universities in the academic year of 2008 to 2009, according to the National Union of Students (NUS). The NUS warned that “the measures would be hugely damaging to UK universities and the economy.”

NUS President Aaron Porter said that “the government has suggested that reducing the number studying at below degree level would eradicate applicants that were not ‘high value’ but a great many of those students studying below degree level courses go on to study for degrees.” Porter added that: “cutting numbers of international students will damage our economy, even further reduce university funding, drain talent from our research laboratories and weaken the vibrant cultural exchange on the UK’s campuses.” Associate Director at the Institute of Public Policy Research, Sarah Mulley, said: “The migration advisory committee’s analysis shows clearly how difficult it will be for the government to fulfil its promise to cut immigration substantially.

“The government now faces an unpalatable choice between introducing a policy which it knows will be damaging to the economy and public services, or failing to fulfil a key promise to the electorate.” On Tuesday 23 November, May commissioned a consultation to focus on Tier 4 of the PBS and issued new measures to cap work permits for immigrants to 43,000.

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