The UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer has implied that the UK’s foreign student cohort might finally be taken out of the country’s net migration figures after a long-standing debate between education partners, business owners and the UK’s Home Office.

Amid recent calls for the British government to remove visiting students from migration statistics, George Osborne claimed the primary concern of voters lay with “permanent” migrants rather than those who return to their home countries upon finishing their studies, and suggested the Home Secretary, Theresa May, should address her methodology.

In a speech to the Commons Treasury select committee earlier this week, Osborne attacked the Home Secretary’s proposal for tougher English language tests and further savings requirements for international student visas, claiming that “They’re not government proposals”.

“The public’s concern is about permanent migration, people permanently or for many, many years coming to live in the country. Students come and go, and I think that’s a good thing for the UK,” said the Chancellor.

“The current way the UK calculates its numbers [international students] are included, but if you talk about the government’s commitment on reducing migration, I would say where that strikes a public chord and has public sympathy is where we are trying to reduce permanent migration to the country,” he added.

His comments were welcomed by business groups and education partners who have criticised the Home Office policy for losing them hundreds of millions of pounds in international student fees.

The Chancellor’s hints could signal the climax in the debate over whether foreign students should be included in the government’s target to reduce net migration to below 100,000. Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, has shown his support for Osborne, while Theresa May’s opposing policies have left her increasingly isolated from the cabinet.

Osborne did, however, claim to support the Home Office’s attempt to eliminate bogus colleges and crackdown on fraudulent student visas. He then emphasised the importance of the government support for those universities employing schemes to grow their international student cohorts.

John Mann, a Labour MP, mentioned how the UK government were depending on an extra one million migrants coming to the UK throughout the next five years in order to deliver the £10 billion surplus on public accounts that is outlined in the Exchequer’s recent Autumn statement.

Documents from the treasury suggest it is expecting a further 1.34 million jobs to be created in that time frame.

Mann then suggested that “the surplus can only be met if we have a million new migrants entering the country”.

The Institute of Directors (IoD), the UK’s longest running organisation for professional leaders, took advantage of the Chancellor’s comments to reiterate previous requests for students to be removed from the nation’s net migration target.

“We welcome the Chancellor’s acknowledgement that most students who come to the UK to study are not permanent migrants,” said Seamus Nevin, head of employment and skills within the IoD. “Government must follow through on this undeniable logic and remove international students from the net migration target.

“Education, particularly higher education, is one of the country’s greatest success stories,” he added. “Higher education is one of the UK’s biggest exports, adding over £10 billion a year to our economy. If George Osborne wants to boost our universities and our economy, he should take this simple step as soon as possible.”

Image via AP Images.

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