Vince Cable destroys Braverman’s anti international students rhetoric

This week’s net migration figures have driven the Government to set their sights on reducing the numbers of international students. Suella Braverman has had them in her sights for a while, saying last month:

“We’ve also got a very high number of students coming into this country and we’ve got a really high number of dependents. So students are coming on their student visa, but they’re bringing in family members who can piggyback onto their student visa. Those people are coming here, they’re not necessarily working or they’re working in low-skilled jobs, and they’re not contributing to growing our economy.”

As Business Secretary during the coalition years, former Lib Dem Leader Vince Cable was in charge of international student numbers and had numerous battles with then Home Secretary Theresa May about them.

Writing on Medium, he has taken Braverman to task about her anti student rhetoric.

Preoccupied by the headline numbers, she has promised a ‘crack down’. This is to take the form of cutting visas for dependents — that is, married students — and for those seeking ‘low quality’ degrees. I recall the same pejorative language being used to dismiss any university not in the Russell Group. Other than sheer academic snobbery, it is difficult to see the substance behind this distinction. In ‘left behind’ parts of Britain it is often the less fashionable and less prestigious, but good quality, new universities which are a mainstay of the local economy. It is reassuring to hear that the Chancellor is warning that the proposed ‘crackdown’ will ‘harm the economy’ and that the Education Secretary is committed to defending British universities.

He highlights the benefits that international students bring:

There is a recognition everywhere except in the Home Office that overseas students are a valuable export. They not only spend large sums in the UK but they help to keep British universities afloat since domestic student fees are inadequate to cover universities’ costs especially for expensive degrees like science and engineering. Moreover, there is a fiercely competitive international market for overseas students in which British institutions vie with colleges in the USA, Canada and Australia. Countries like India, which Britain is seeking to cultivate in order to secure a post-Brexit bilateral trade agreement, are also very sensitive to how their students (often children of the governing class) are treated in the UK.

And rides a coach and horses through Home Office arguments:

The Home Office claims that a significant proportion of the students never go back and put forward ‘guesstimates’ based on voluntary surveys at airports to justify their scepticism. However, common sense suggests that overseas students are an improbable source of sizeable illegal immigration. Students pay very large fees — typically around £30,000 per annum for UK universities, excluding accommodation and other living costs. It beggars belief that students whose families or sponsors were able to afford to pay well over £100,000 for a university education should need to stay behind as illegal immigrants working precariously in a car wash or restaurant kitchen.

He then states why we need more, not less immigration:

the Office of Budget Responsibility projections suggest that a revival of growth needs more immigration, not less. Yet politically this is a difficult message and both Sunak and Starmer are repeating the old mantra that Britain needs instead to increase the productivity of its existing labour force through skill training and capital investment, both of which are long term and elusive objectives. But in the meantime there is acute labour shortage in some sectors of the economy, often in relatively unskilled service sector roles. Nor is it clear where the British workers are going to come from to fill them since unemployment is low and employment is historically very high (and difficult to increase from younger age groups without much more generous and extensive child care).

He concludes by offering the government three options on how to fill the gaps in the labour force:

One is to make retirement a much less attractive option and for the elderly to work, if not until they drop, at least for some years longer contributing work and tax revenues. But the carrots, like tax relief, are expensive and the sticks — like a compulsorily delayed state pension — unpalatable. A second option is to accept the fact that growth won’ t happen which makes the choices around public spending, debt management and tax all the more difficult. That is why the Home Secretary’s intervention to curb economically valuable overseas students is so damaging and foolish. The third is to accept that, Brexit or no Brexit, immigration at high levels is here to stay.

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14 Comments

  • Anthony Durham 26th Nov '22 - 11:55pm

    I worked for a while, over ten years ago, in the administration of a college of further education and have an abiding memory of the malignant dishonesty of the Home Office in everything to do with student visas. I formed the opinion that civil servants as well as Conservative ministers routinely told lies in pursuit of irrational xenophobic policy.

  • David Garlick 27th Nov '22 - 10:04am

    Pragmatism sugests that the third option is the one that will become accepted.
    The scapping of the care homes fees cap is a clear sign that the Govt acknowledges that the care system needs more funding not less as there is not enough govt funding available to do more than slow the decent of the sector into extreme chaos. Workers pay in the sector is poor and whilst shelf stacking in a supermarket is a better option all workers, whatever their origin, will stay away from care. Immigration is needed to reduce the imbalance between vacant jobs and workers seeking employment. Whilst that would make a start, it alone is not enough and pay remians the difficult problem.

  • Neil Sandison 27th Nov '22 - 12:13pm

    With an aging population and rising numbers of people with long term ill health problems encouraging people from abroad to settle here is in our long-term economic interest The sooner we can get those who want to settle here into the jobs market earning and paying taxes the better it is for our social health and welfare systems. bright young minds trained at our universities and employed in our new technologies is in everyone’s interest.

  • Suzanne Fletcher 27th Nov '22 - 1:34pm

    Well said Vince Cable. Speaking out strongly and clearly on the migration figures.
    Way back in 2014 policy paper “Making Migration Work for Britain” has a whole chapter on students, visas, and migration. Summed up with:
    “Foreign students contribute nearly £13 billion to our economy
    each year, and the skills they bring and the fees they contribute
    play a key role in keeping our higher education institutions
    amongst the best in the world. Once they have come and paid in,
    the vast majority of foreign students return home. We should aim
    to increase the number of foreign students studying in the UK, not
    deter them with a migration target.”
    A policy that took months to work up, took expert evidence, what thought about, voted on at conference. Compared with “back of fag packet” populist statements from Braverman.
    well done Vince Cable.

  • >So students are coming on their student visa, but they’re bringing in family members who can piggyback onto their student visa.
    Thinking about this, the vast majority of students should be circa 18~23, hence this particular group of students should be a very small minority, otherwise I would suggest these “students” aren’t coming to the UK to primarily get a degree – the primary purpose of the student visa…

    Whilst Vince does make some good points with his “why we need more, not less immigration”, he puts himself firmly in the Conservative neo-liberal camp, ie. not a libdem.

  • Roland, you’re entitled to an opinion, but it would a good idea to produce evidence about the nature of overseas students rather making just making an assertion. If you’d looked up the UCAS stats you would have discovered that :

    “Over 45% of international students in the UK are here to complete a postgraduate degree”….. Postgraduate students : UCAShttps://www.ucas.com.

    By definition postgraduates tend to be older than graduates, and hence, more likely to have families. Do you really want them not to have a normal family life in what to them may well be a strange and foreign country ?

  • nigel hunter 27th Nov '22 - 4:47pm

    We need all the migrants we can get.The care system desperately needs them. We need them NOW. As they arrive in the country their experiences can be discovered with them then redirected to where there services are needed..Re employing our own and with training will take time.

  • Barry Lofty 27th Nov '22 - 5:15pm

    As far I am concerned Vince Cable makes his usual common sense ?

  • Peter Chambers 27th Nov '22 - 7:07pm

    This again. I remember that Mrs May used to assert that essentially every foreign student stayed after study. At one point the Home Office used a 2-year duration to claim that students on 3-year courses had “migrated”. This was later debunked by HMG itself, for example in a Second Report on non-EEA students.
    Five years later we get the same incorrect assertions from a new Home Secretary.
    Anecdotally the foreign students I studied alongside when doing a B.Sc. mostly expected to return to their home countries to get good jobs in their economies. Their families will have had to fund them and expected them to pass their exams and return home. They visibly “hit the books” and could be found in the library in the evening. Some might have stayed, tempted by job recruiters desperate for graduate candidates eligible for work visas. EU-based students could come and go under freedom of movement.

  • I agree with Vince.

  • Peter Hirst 29th Nov '22 - 4:10pm

    The glaring issue with this and many other policy areas is that this government is totally concerned with responding to tomorrow’s headlines instead of formulating a realistic, fair and progressive policy that balances the various factors. If government spokespeople could come to interviews with a vision of their policy they would not be cornered into defending the indefensible and therefore if not lying then constructing the truth.

  • @David Raw – thanks for the UCAS figure which gives an indication of the ratio of undergrads and postgrad. My point wasn’t to deny international students a “normal family life” whatever that means, but to question why this is an issue ie. has the number of postgrad international students wishing to bring their families to the UK massively increased in recent decades?

  • John Nicholson 29th Nov '22 - 8:33pm

    I totally agree with the phrase “malignant dishonesty” applied to the Home Office by @Anthony Durham. A few years ago, they refused a visa to a Professor from North Macedonia, who had applied to work on a short placement in my university. They actually stated that “there is no evidence that she intends to return home”. Now, her husband is the President, and her most recent visit (for which the low grade clerks in the Home Office could not avoid issuing a visa) was to attend the Queen’s funeral. This proves what buffoons they are. The Home Office is an utter disgrace, and their toxic hostility to foreigners the unwelcome legacy of a range of xenophobic, small-minded Home Secretaries going back to Theresa May. If and when the Tories are booted out of office, reforming the Home Office will be a major challenge for the incoming Government.

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