Government urged to commission an independent review into UK's international education sector
18 October 2011

The Government should act to safeguard the UK's £14bn international education sector by commissioning an independent review into its workings, says English UK.

Chief Executive Tony Millns says the Australian government responded quickly earlier this year to an independent review of their international education sector, streamlining and liberalisation their student visa system among other reforms.

"This will result in the UK losing global market share in the international education sector, as it has been doing in recent years to the USA and Canada in particular," he said.

"The UK Government should commission a similar independent review with a view to growing, or at the very least maintaining, our share of the global market for international education.  In a situation where the UK's worldwide reputation for quality in education means that there are willing buyers, this should be achievable."

Mr Millns said a key issue for the sector was the student visa system, which as a result of changes over the past two years had become " complex and difficult to understand, costly both for students and for UK educational institutions, and a real deterrent to international students."

The Government's target of reducing net migration to the "tens of thousands" was either unachievable or only achievable at the cost of excessive damage to the education system, with large scale closures of both state and private sector colleges, he warned. A recent report produced for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills put the value of international education in foreign earnings to the UK at over £14bn currently, making it one of our top five export sectors.

The core of the problem was that anyone arriving or leaving a country for more than a year was counted as a migrant under a definition agreed through the UN Statistics Division, which would include students taking degrees. Mr Millns suggested that an international coalition of tourism and education bodies should work for a revision of the definition of migrants, to create one which would promote international student mobility.

Mr Millns pointed to research by the independent Migration Observatory at Oxford University which found that most British people do not view international students as immigrants and would prefer to see the Government reduce other groups of migrants.

Two thirds of people did not support reducing the numbers of international students coming to the UK. Those who did want to cut student numbers saw little difference between those studying at English language centres, colleges or universities.

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