MAC report on international student migration – response

Posted on 11 September 2018

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) released its findings on ‘The impact of international students in the UK‘ today.

Responding to the MAC report, British Future Director of Strategy Jill Rutter said:

“The MAC recommends that Government and universities work together to increase international student numbers. Yet the one-size-fits-all net migration target sends out mixed messages about whether Britain will really welcome people who want to study here.

“An immigration strategy that includes a planned increase in student numbers would make clear that Britain is committed to encouraging students to choose UK universities.

“The MAC report also offers little movement on post-study leave. We should be more ambitious: a two-year visa for STEM graduates would attract the students our industries need. Without it, our universities will continue to lose out to institutions in Australia, Canada and the US.

“The National Conversation on Immigration, the biggest-ever public consultation on immigration, finds that most people welcome student migration to the UK. Government policy should not send out the opposite message.”

New research  from the National Conversation on Immigration shows public support for international students across the UK.

The majority of the public, across party political and Leave/Remain divides, think international student migration is beneficial to the UK and brings tangible benefits both nationally and to the towns and cities where students live and study.

Research by ICM for the National Conversation on Immigration finds that 68% of people want the number of international students to be increased or remain at the same level (24% increase and 44% remain at the same level).  Support for international students was evident across all age groups, ethnicities, social grades, political affiliation and places. Only 21% wanted to reduce international student numbers.


The National Conversation on Immigration recommends that the Government should aim to increase international student numbers to 500,000 per year, a 13% increase, as part of a three-year strategy on immigration that replaces the net migration target. It also proposes a new, regional post-study work visa for graduates of STEM subjects.

The National Conversation on Immigration is the biggest-ever public consultation on immigration. Running over an 18-month period, it comprised over 130 meetings with local citizens and stakeholders in 60 locations across every nation and region of the UK, together with an online survey completed by more than 9,300 people and nationally representative survey of 3,667 adults undertaken by ICM. In total 19,951 people took part in the project, coordinated by British Future and HOPE not hate. The final report of the National Conversation on Immigration will be published on Monday 17 September 2018. Excerpts released today present a detailed picture of public attitudes to international student migration in the UK.


The National Conversation on Immigration recommends that:


  • The Government should publish a three-year plan for migration, which should include measures to increase international student migration.

If the Government aimed to bring the number of international students up to 500,000, an increase of 13%, over a five-year period, input-output modelling suggests that this would support 19,000 extra jobs and add £1.82 billion additional Gross Value Added (GVA) to UK GDP. Although some of these benefits accrue nationally, increased international student migration also benefits local communities by generating employment and driving local economic growth.


  • The Government should provide immediate clarity on the status of EU students after the Brexit transition period.


  • The Home Office and universities should review the operation of the Tier 4 student visa system with the aim of simplification both for students and for universities.


  • The Government should establish a new, regional post-study work visa for graduates of STEM subjects.

Other than small and specific visa allocations for graduates, the UK no longer offers post-study visas. Yet there is substantial evidence that post-study work visas are one of the factors that potential students take into account when choosing their destination country. The UK’s current stance puts it at a competitive disadvantage when it come to attracting students.  Reinstating a post-study work visa would help the UK attract international students. We recommend that the Government introduce a three-year, post-study visa for graduates of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and maths) subjects.


  • All universities should produce a community plan, involving university staff and local residents in its development and implementation.

Although many already do much good work, some universities’ community links are weak and uncoordinated. We recommend that all universities should be obliged to develop a community plan that sets out how they work with local communities. As well as university staff, development of this plan should also involve local residents, sixth formers, businesses and counciIs. It would cover the university’s cultural offer, activities to widen local participation, how a university can help local industry and how to reduce pressure or distortion of local housing markets brought by universities.

Read the international students excerpt from the National Conversation on Immigration final report.