Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who is on a high-profile trade visit to India, has backed a call by a leading Conservative Party politician to exclude foreign students from the government’s plan to cut immigration to the UK.
Michael Heseltine, the former Deputy PM, said the government risked damaging Britain’s universities if students from outside the European Union are included in official immigration figures.
He told the BBC that foreign students were “not the sort of people that are causing the anxiety about immigration”
Mr Heseltine added that the public did not see students as part of the “immigration problem” and described foreign student as a “great asset financially and educationally” to the UK.
Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to reduce net migration to the UK to less than 100,000 by next year.
The Office for National Statistics estimated that net long-term migration to the UK was 212,000 last year.
Speaking in Delhi, Mr Clegg said the figures did not “make any sense”.
He said the UK needed a “tough but smart” immigration policy – tough on illegal activity such as gangs and bogus colleges, but smart in terms of attracting talented people from abroad.
The Home Office said students would continue to be counted in its figures.
Mr Clegg has continued to clash with his Conservative coalition partners on the issue of immigration, particularly student visas.
Speaking to the UKAsian prior to his departure to India, Mr Clegg sought to allay concerns that Britain is an unwelcome place for Indian immigrants, emphatically declaring that they are “welcome, welcome, welcome”.
“I will be going out of my way during my visit to say very, very clearly, particularly to young, bright, ambitious Indians who are thinking of where they should study around the world, they are welcome, welcome, welcome to Britain.
“There is no numerical limit to Indian students wanting to come to study here. There is a long, long tradition of outstandingly bright young Indians coming to study in our outstanding British universities. We want to see more of that, not less.”
According to the Home Office, there was a 6% increase in the number of visas granted to non-EU students last year although numbers from the South Asian region have seen a dramatic decline as many students feel the impact of tougher immigration rules.