Happy New Year to you! (If it’s not too late to still say that).
Whether you’re doing ‘dry January’ or cutting down on food after an over-indulgent Christmas, the beginning of the New Year is always a good time to consider how one can do better in the year ahead.
So, while we are on the topic of a fresh start, if anyone is in need of a bit of soul-searching, it is our politicians. One area of Government policy, in particular, that is in clear need of a rethink, is our immigration system. Indeed, the issue has been a running source of disagreement between business leaders and some politicians for many years.
I, myself, am seriously distressed about the Government’s net migration target. In particular, I worry about the fact that the number of international students attending our universities remains part of the target, whereas I believe they should be excluded.
A recent survey of our members found that a quarter of them had on their wish list for domestic reform “removing students from the immigration target” - even ahead of lower corporation tax and more business rates relief.
So, why is this? First of all, the vast majority of the public do not even consider these students to be immigrants. Accordingly, preventing students from coming here does not address the public’s concerns about immigration. Underlining this point, we know that very few of these students ever overstay their visas.
The broader reason, however, that businesses – not to mention myself – want to make this change, is the glittering contribution these students make to our country.
As a former Chairman of the Board of Governors of the School of Oriental and African Studies, I have been able to witness first-hand how exciting it is that our academic institutions attract the best and the brightest from across the world. I firmly believe that our students benefit immensely by rubbing shoulders with the future leaders of many countries around the world.
In addition, the international students themselves benefit. Not only do they receive a truly world-class education, but they spend some of the most formative years of their life in the UK. As a result, they often go on to promote the values they encounter here wherever they ultimately live and work.
The business case for encouraging international students to study here in the UK is also overwhelming. A recent study found that these students generate around £20bn for our economy. That research came to the conclusion that the benefits these students bring to the UK was ten times larger than any costs we might incur. Even better, this benefit is diffused across all regions of our country and nearly all sectors of our economy.
International students form an important part of our thriving university sector. UK higher education is a key industry and a remarkable economic success story, contributing £80bn to our economy every year. Our top universities sit at the summit of the world’s league tables.
To ensure that we continue the high standards that we have set ourselves, we must keep our institutions open to the very best and most talented people from across the world. Doing so positively enhances the position of our own students.
I really do hope, therefore, that 2018 is the year that the government takes to heart the positive cultural and economic contribution international students make to our country.
That would be a perfect New Year’s resolution for our politicians, and, on that upbeat note, I would like to wish you all the best with whatever targets and aims you have set yourself for the coming year. Let’s hope that we can all achieve them.
Best regards as ever,