24 August 2017

Three-quarters of public wants to keep international students – new poll

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Students graduating. Photo: University of Leicester
Students graduating. Photo: University of Leicester

Three-quarters of the public want to keep the number of international students coming to Britain the same as now or to increase it, according to new ICM polling for British Future, writes Steve Ballinger.

The findings are released as the Government announced a new Migration Advisory Committee inquiry into the broad impacts of international students on universities and local economies, alongside new ONS immigration statistics today.

The ICM polling, for a new report on immigration policy after Brexit to be published next week, finds that 76% of the public want the number of international students to stay the same or increase, with 20% preferring to increase the number of international students and 56% suggesting it should stay the same as it is currently. Just 24% would prefer to reduce international student numbers.

It also finds that international students are popular across the referendum tribes. Two-thirds (66%) of Leave voters would keep international student numbers the same or higher, with 85% of Remain voters in agreement.

In the report next week, Time to get it right: Finding consensus on Britain’s future immigration policy, British Future proposes a new immigration system that differentiates between different flows of immigration. That includes reporting international students separately from other migration statistics, reflecting the fact that most of the public do not consider international students to be ‘immigrants’. It suggests that the Government should instead consider setting targets for year-on-year increases to international student numbers so that British universities maintain and grow their share of a growing international market.

The MAC inquiry is welcome and long overdue, bringing new evidence to the debate on whether international students should be reported separately from other migration figures. There is consensus among the public and most politicians that overseas students should be welcomed in Britain but currently, the net migration target creates a perverse incentive to cut student numbers.

People have very different opinions about different types of immigration, such as students and other flows, and it would make sense if our policies and targets reflected this. Replacing the net migration target with a series of ‘intelligent targets’ that differentiate between different flows of immigration, would be a sensible move as part of post-Brexit immigration reforms.The one-size-fits-all net migration target isn’t fit for purpose now and won’t be after we leave the EU

ICM’s polling for British Future’s forthcoming report finds that only 12% of the public – and just 14% of Conservative voters – think that the Government will meet its net migration target in the next five years. Two-thirds of the public (66%) and 62% of Conservatives believe it won’t be met by 2022, well after the UK has left the EU and freedom of movement has ended.

The research also finds that nearly two-thirds (63%) of the public, and 71% of 2017 Conservative voters, think the Government should drop its headline net migration target and replace it with separate targets for different types of immigration, such as skilled and low-skilled workers. Just 7% of the public disagrees.






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