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The government has pledged to develop a new system for calculating the number of overseas students entering and leaving the UK.
The announcement comes after pressure from the academic sector for students to be excluded from immigration reduction measures.
Organisations like Universities UK, the body which represents the UK’s Universities, feel the government’s aim to cut annual net migration risks hurting the lucrative market for overseas students coming to the UK to study.
A number of high-profile University chancellors have also written to the government asking them to exclude international students from migration statistics.
Universities Minister David Willetts told university leaders meeting in Keele that the Office for National Statistics was working on ways to "better count students in immigration flows".
He said: “Without international students, we would not only be poorer economically - we would also be more boring, more insular, and more ignorant of the wider world.”
Mr Willetts also announced that the government will offer financial help to legitimate overseas students who are in danger of being deported after a London university lost the right to recruit overseas students from outside the European Union.
London Metropolitan University (LMU) failed to make proper checks on overseas students, government agencies said, although that is disputed by the university which is mounting a legal challenge.
Mr Willetts said a £2million fund was being created for the students affected by the situation at LMU. "This will provide certainty to London Met students at what is a stressful and unsettling time," he added.
Universities UK has praised the announcement, but cautioned that it does not go far enough.
Professor Eric Thomas, the group's president, said: “This is good news and a step in the right direction. It will help make a clearer distinction between temporary and permanent migrants and brings us into line with the way our major competitors report this information.
“Universities UK would like the government to go further and remove students from net migration targets, but today's announcement will make it possible to see what contribution students are making to any future reductions”
Jacqui Fox, Managing Director of Twin Training International, said the move showed the government recognises the economic value of international students continuing to study in the UK.
Ms Fox said: “The announcement form the Universities Minister is positive for companies creating UK jobs in the academic sector.
The vast majority of foreign students applying to study in the UK are genuine so I am glad that the comments from Mr Willetts reflect this.”
Posted by Caroline Fox
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