UK must welcome international students

Students taking a selfie on graduation day at Aberystwyth University

As the deadline for Brexit negotiations nears, we need decisive action to secure the future of internationalisation in UK higher education. The migration advisory committee (MAC) has acknowledged the overwhelming evidence showing how important international students are to the UK (Report, 11 September). We are pleased to see positive recommendations around post-study work for postgraduate students. However, this report does not go far enough to promote the welcoming, global Britain that our HE sector needs. International students remain caught up in the government’s net migration target. This is symbolic of an unwelcoming attitude and will inevitably hinder growth of international student numbers. Our post-study work offer places us at a competitive disadvantage compared with Canada, the US and Australia – countries whose doors are firmly open to international students.

In the past, the home secretary, Sajid Javid, has been supportive of making changes to the system, citing a “problem with perception” when counting foreign students in targets to lower immigration, and committing to re-examining the current visa system for students. Now is the time to change that perception. Innovative solutions are being offered from across the education sector, from Universities UK’s two-year work visa to the evidence collected by the all-party parliamentary group on international students and the Higher Education Commission. The government is not bound to accept the limited recommendations of the MAC. We are hopeful the Home Office will now work with other government departments, the sector and students on a new strategy that supports international students coming to the UK.