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Saturday, April 15, 2017

PM under pressure over foreign students

The biggest impact of the Tory Party's obsession with cutting immigration has always been in the higher education sector, with many foreign students being out off coming to UK Universities because of visa restrictions. That, in turn has hit the finances of many Higher Education Institutions.

It is no surprise therefore to read in the Independent that Theresa May is facing a damaging Commons revolt next week by Conservative MPs who are pressing her to remove foreign students from the immigration figures.

The paper says that rebel Tories claim they have enough support to inflict a humiliating defeat on Ms May on Wednesday when MPs debate an amendment to the Higher Education and Research Bill passed by the House of Lords last month. The Prime Minister is also under pressure from several cabinet ministers to stop counting overseas students as long-term migrants:

By 313 votes to 219, peers agreed that no student “should be treated for public policy purposes as a long-term migrant to the UK for the duration of their studies”.

Tory whips are trying to contain the revolt, pleading with the party’s MPs not to “rock the boat now” and urging them to defeat the Lords amendment.

But rebels claim they can overturn the Government’s majority of 17, which would require nine Tories to defy Ms May if all opposition party MPs join forces with them. They hope the real prospect of defeat will force the Prime Minister to compromise.

The backbench revolt leaves Ms May increasingly isolated on the issue. Downing Street has slapped down ministers who have called publicly for foreign students to be removed from the immigration statistics.

Amid claims that they feel unwelcome, the number dropped by 41,000 in the year to September. There are fears that, if the trend continues, universities would have to raise tuition fees above the £9,250-a-year ceiling taking effect this autumn.

Critics claim Ms May wants to drive down the number of overseas students to help her hit the Government’s target to reduce net migration below 100,000 a year.

Excluding the students would make that easier to achieve. Some 134,000 foreigners came to Britain to study in the 12 months to last September, during which net migration totalled 273,000.

The Prime Minister's focus on immigration has the potential to unbalance the economy, with sectors such as health dependent on a migrant workforce. However, the most damage is being done to higher education. Tory MPs have the opportunity to do something about that next week.
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