A report by the Westminster Home Affairs Committee, published yesterday, said foreign students should be exempted from wider targets on immigration introduced by the UK Government.
The Herald understands the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee is also expected to oppose the Government’s position in a separate report published today.
The Coalition Government introduced a crackdown on the number of student visas issued by the UK Borders Agency (UKBA) as part of Prime Minister David Cameron’s drive to reduce overall immigration.
That move was partly motivated by the desire to eradicate the influx of so-called bogus students who used student visas as a front to live and work in Britain.
However, Michael Russell, the Scottish Education Secretary, and Scottish university principals led protests north of the Border, claiming the plans would hit Scotland’s ability to attract legitimate overseas students, as well as damaging the economy.
Students from countries such as China and India pay significant fees to study in the UK, providing a crucial source of additional income for the universities.
It has been estimated that international students and their families contribute more than £400 million to the Scottish economy every year, as well as enriching campuses socially and culturally.
The report by the Home Affairs Committee states: “The Prime Minister’s aim to reduce migration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands cannot be achieved without drastically reducing the number of people who come to study in Britain.
“It is likely this would damage a strong sector of our economy and also the cultural diversity of our universities.
“We recommend the Government should exclude students from their net migration target.”
The report went on to recommend that, in order to maintain public confidence in the immigration system, face-to-face interviews were made “compulsory” for all foreign students “where it is practical and appropriate to do so”.
Last night, the report was largely welcomed by Universities Scotland, which represents university principals.
A spokeswoman said the conclusions built on significant levels of opposition from universities, business leaders and the Scottish Parliament.
“With close to 90% of international students returning home after their studies it is entirely wrong, in our view, this group should be included as part of the UK Government’s net immigration targets,” she said.
“It is damaging to Scotland and the UK’s interests and we urge the UK Government to rethink.”
Scotland’s Colleges, which represents the further education sector, also welcomed the committee’s recommendations.
John Henderson, chief executive of Scotland’s Colleges, said: “The majority of colleges in Scotland recruit internationally and the current rules have affected their ability to do so,” he said.
“That not only impacts on colleges financially, but also reduces the diversity of the learning experience for students.
“There must be safeguards and confidence that visas are granted only to genuine students, but this must be achieved in ways other than the current rules.”
Lord Willis, chairman of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, also hit out at the Government’s plans.
“The Government is wrong on this and they have to face down those who see all immigration as a bad thing,” he said.
“In a world economy we have to attract the best talent and try and retain that talent, or at least give overseas students a fantastic experience to encourage more to come.”
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