Boris fights international students corner in immigration conflict

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson
Image: Flickr, Andrew ParsonsForeign Secretary Boris Johnson Image: Flickr, Andrew Parsons

Boris Johnson has risked causing conflict with Downing Street after suggesting that international students should be omitted from migration statistics.

Appearing on ITV’s Peston on Sunday on the 4th of December, the Foreign Secretary stated that we are the “knowledge capital of the world” and international students are a “massive benefit” to the country. When asked if he thought that international students should be excluded from “immigration figures” he said “I do take that view”. He went on to say: “you’ve obviously got to have limits, you’ve got to make sure – as Theresa has rightly said – when they come, they’ve got to be coming for a bona fide degree and they’re not staying on without permission.”

The Foreign Secretary added: “as Theresa and I have found virtually everywhere you go, the number one question people ask is ‘How can I make sure my kids are going to be able to come to the UK and come to university here?’” He says this is “a great compliment to this country.”

These views appear to directly oppose that of Downing Street. As Home Secretary, Theresa May oversaw procedures that made it difficult for international students to reside in the UK after university, and as Prime Minister she has refused to omit students from migration figures. As recently as October Downing Street slapped down the Chancellor Philip Hammond’s suggestion that removing students from the migration count was more in-keeping with public opinion.

How does this debate affect Newcastle University? Professor Richard Davies, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Engagement and Internationalisation), explained what our university stands for regarding internationalism and its value. He said: “We believe that education and research transcend international boundaries and our aim is that internationalisation is integrated into every dimension of what we do. We have over 5,000 international students that bring in £115m of revenue to the region per year.”

In terms of excluding students from migration figures, the view is that this would be in line with what our university represents. Professor Davies went on to explain: “Our idea of a university is that it represents a community of learning, open to all who have the ability and the wish to participate and benefit from it and we continue to emphasize this to our students, staff and overseas partners. We welcome Boris Johnson’s recent statement that international students should not be included in immigration figures.”

For now, the Government’s stance on the matter is unchanged. Following Boris Johnson’s statement, a Downing Street spokesperson has told The Independent: “Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included.”

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