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Get data right before forming any policy on foreign students, UK govt told

Controversy over the statistics on international students and graduates in the UK is not new. Source: Shutterstock

Linking data sets will be key to the United Kingdom forming a comprehensive and evidence-based government policy on international students, Hollie Chandler, a senior policy analyst at the Russell Group wrote in The Guardian.

Chandler is urging the government to form a more evidence-based approach to find out the number of students who overstay their visas as the quality of student migration statistics previously used has been of doubt.

“Controversy over the statistics on international students and graduates in the UK is not new. It has been a feature of the immigration debate for a number of years,” Chandler wrote.

Last December, the UK’s Home Office was reported to be looking at halving the number of international students to the country, using data which implied thousands of international students have overstayed after graduation.

Public and industry backlash have steadily continued since, many criticising the reliability of the data used, as well as stating the harm it would make to the economy.

To estimate the number of students arriving and leaving, the UK had used data from its Office for National Statistics, which is based on the International Passenger Survey (IPS). The problem with this data set is poor sampling and failure to capture the number of graduates emigrating.

While the Home Office info on the number of students visas it issues each year is used as a cross-check for IPS data, Chandler notes the Home Office data does not account for the number of students who ultimately do not head to the UK to study, which makes up nine percent of students according to a  UK Border Agency report in 2010.

Chandler recommends looking at exit checks – which lets us know departures from the UK by air, rail and ferry – and linking them to other data sets on entry, length of permitted stay and type of visa granted.

Chandler recommends linking exit checks with other data sets on entry, length of permitted stay and type of visa granted. Source: Shutterstock

By combining them through a joint effort by the ONS and other government departments including the Home Office, the Department for Work and Pensions and HMRC, a “comprehensive picture” of the inflow and outflow of international students can be achieved for the first time.

“Decisions over student immigration – and other areas of skilled migration – will help decide the sort of Britain we are able to build outside of the European Union,” Chandler wrote.

“If we are going to get policy solutions that reflect genuine need, it will take more than anecdotal data and flawed metrics.”

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