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Poll: Most Britons want overseas student numbers to ‘stay same or rise’

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Almost three-quarters of the UK public want the number international students pursuing education in the country to increase or stay the same, a Universities UK (UUK) poll has revealed ahead of a key parliamentary vote on whether the government should stop classifying them as long-term migrants.

Nearly half (49 percent) said they wanted the same number of overseas students, while close to a quarter (24 percent) wished to see even more foreign students heading to the UK. This was after “discovering the contribution they make to the economy and the jobs they generate”.

“It is clear the British public do not see international students as long-term migrants, but as valuable, temporary visitors,” Dame Julia Goodfellow, Universities UK president and University of Kent vice-chancellor said.

“They come to the UK, study for a period, then the vast majority return home.” – Goodfellow

The poll also found a great number of respondents (75 percent) were fine with these students staying on after graduating “for a fixed period” to work.

Only 26 percent of those polled considered foreign students as immigrants “when thinking about government immigration policy”.

Most respondents (64 percent) also said they thought foreign students would bring positive social, cultural and economic impact to the towns and cities in which they study.

“If the UK wants to remain a top destination for international students, we need a new immigration policy that encourages them to choose the UK,” Goodfellow said.

“As the UK prepares to exit the EU, it is more important than ever we project a welcoming message to talented people from across the world.”

Last year, UK’s home secretary pledged to halve the number of overseas students coming to Britain to study “low-quality” courses, in a bid to reduce net migration to “sustainable levels”. The move incited backlash from stakeholders and the public who said it would cause grave ramifications to the nation’s economy and higher education sector.

The latest in the series was the UK’s House of Lords’ refusal to accede to the government’s plan. The Lords voted 313 to 219 in support of an amendment to the Higher Education and Research Bill that would remove overseas students from migration figures.

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Baroness Royall of Blaisdon told the House then: “Apart from the government, I have spoken to no one who is against the measures in the amendment: quite the contrary, there is strong support.

“They understand … we must secure and sustain our ability to excite, attract and retain the world’s greatest minds. This is fundamental to the excellence of the UK university system.”

The lower House of Commons is due to vote on the amendment later this month.

UUK’s poll, which was conducted by ComRes, had surveyed 4,043 British adults aged 18 and above online between March 22 and 26 this year.

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