The UK’s prime minister has acknowledged the “significant economic and cultural contribution” international students make to the country, but stopped short of saying the UK should be attempting to recruit more.
Rishi Sunak said the UK will always want to recruit the “best and the brightest”.
“International students do make a significant economic and cultural contribution to the UK’s higher education sector and indeed the UK. They enrich the university experience for all students,” Rishi Sunak told a committee of MPs on December 20.
“The point to recognise is, the target we set of 600,000 was for 2030. We met it several years early and that is a sign of success but obviously it causes one to look at the situation but no one is doubting the contributions that students make to the UK and the economy.”
He did not say whether the UK should change the target for 2030.
“International students make a significant economic and cultural contribution to the HE sector and UK”@RishiSunak celebrates the positive impact of international students and the success of the International Education Strategy at @CommonsLiaison (1/2) pic.twitter.com/jevoB7sGnU
— University APPG (@universityappg) December 21, 2022
Asked by chair of the education select committee, Robin Walker, whether some institutions should be attracting international students and others not, is a “non-starter”, the prime minister said limiting international students at some institutions is “not something I’ve spoken about”.
The education minister Gillian Keegan recently said the UK should “focus on how we can expand and grow still” after reaching the 600,000 target a decade early.
However, home secretary Suella Braverman has previously claimed that “poor universities [are] being bankrolled” by international students. Her comments caused dismay among international education stakeholders and were heavily criticised.
“I want to make sure that we attract the best and the brightest to the UK, that is something we will always want to do,” the prime minister confirmed to the committee on December 20.
“The reforms that we have put in place will all have continued to attract people here”
“There is a global competition for talent… funnily enough our visa system for highly-skilled people is very competitive.
“The reforms that we have put in place will all have continued to attract people here,” he added, possibly referring to the Graduate visa route for post-study work opportunities.
UUKi has said that the UK should not be “pursuing growth at any cost”. The focus should be on sustainable growth, diversifying the pool of international students and maintaining the position of second most popular destination behind the US, Jamie Arrowsmith, UUKi director has said.
“We just want to make sure that people, when they are here, are contributing one way or another, I think that is an important foundation of a proper migration system,” Sunak concluded in his statement to the committee.