The amendment was introduced by Lord Hannayparliamentlive.tv

The House of Lords has voted to approve an amendment to the Government’s Higher Education and Research Bill, that would exclude international student from net migration targets.

The amendment, which was passed by 313 votes to 219, states: 

“The Secretary of State shall ensure that no student, either undergraduate or postgraduate, who has received an offer to study at such a higher education provider, be treated for public policy purposes as a long term migrant to the UK, for the duration of their studies at such an establishment.

Theresa May’s  government has received criticism from the higher education sector over the impact of overly stringent targets on international students. The intake of Indian students at UK universities has halved since 2010. Meanwhile, the Home Office’s increasingly restrictive student visa regulations appear to be benefiting other countries, with the US, Canada and Australia all welcoming increasing numbers of Indian students into their universities.

Introducing the amendment, Lord Hannay of Chiswick said: “The UK is second only to the US as a provider of higher education to overseas students, which is a tremendous achievement and a massive national asset, both economically and in terms of soft power.” He added that the case against the amendment was “unanswerable.”

The amendment, which was sponsored by the Chancellor of the University of Oxford  Lord Patten of Barnes, also had the support of prominent members of the Cambridge University. Lord Smith of Finsbury, Master of Pembroke College, explained the importance of welcoming international students from outside the EU, which make up 10 per cent of Pembroke’s undergraduate population and 30 per cent of postgraduates.

Lord Bilimoria, the chair of the advisory board of the Judge Business School, suggested that the Government’s current immigration policy was out of line with public opinion. He cited a ComRes poll taken on behalf of Universities UK in the wake of the EU referendum, which found that 23 per cent of Remain voters and 25 per cent of Leave voters viewed international students as immigrants.

The only peer to speak against the amendment, Lord Green of Deddington, accused the amendment of being “an attempt to make policy through legislation,” which falls outside the remit of the role of the House of Lords: “That is wrong both in practice and in principle.”

He also made reference to the “widespread abuse at the college level” of the immigration system, citing the “scandal” of “bogus colleges” which act as sponsors on the visa applications of immigrants who purport to be students, but are in reality moving to the UK in order to find work. In recent years, Glasgow Caledonian University, Teesside University and London Metropolitan University have all had their sponsor licences suspended for similar misdemeanours.

A study conducted by Oxford Economics on behalf of Universities UK and published this month found that, in 2014-2015, the UK was the second most popular destination for international students, after the US. 437,000 international students studying in the UK made up 19 per cent of all students registered at UK universities. Among postgraduates, this percentage is higher, especially for subjects such as business studies, for which international students make up 55 per cent of all students. The researchers estimated that the spending overseas students added £25.8 billion to the gross output of the UK economy, supporting roughly 206,000 jobs.

In a Facebook status posted after the amendment was passed, CUSU President Amatey Doku condemned the government’s immigration policy, saying: “Unlike the government, the majority of the Lords clearly understand the damage that this would do for our ability to encourage international students to attend our Universities.”

However, he stressed that, in cases such as the Lords’ opposition to the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), amendments were insufficient: “We need meaningful opposition in the House of Commons and for the Lords to stand their ground if students rights are to be truly protected.”

The amendment is not permanent, and the Bill will now be passed back to the House of Commons for their consideration 

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