The issue of whether or not students should be counted as migrants in official figures has been raised in an influential Parliamentary committee.
The Public Accounts Committee was taking evidence on a National Audit Office report into student immigration, which was highly critical of some of the ways in which Tier 4 was implemented.
The hearing was on the same day as the IPPR published its own research arguing that other countries find ways of making it clear in the statistics that students are short-term visitors rather than migrants, and suggesting that the UK government should do the same.
Richard Bacon, the Conservative MP for Norfolk, was keen to take up this point.
"It seems to me perfectly possible to have a set of parallel statistics," he said to a group of senior civil servants giving evidence to the committee. He added: "What I suspect you are fearful of is being seen to be fiddling the statistics. Whether you are or not... that might be the perception, which is a legitimate fear, although I don't think anybody serious in this is interested in fiddling the statistics. What one is interested in is accurate figures to inform the debate."
Continuing, he said that it was Government policy to ensure there were no bogus students or colleges and in fact students were encouraged as a very important export market, with the Prime Minister spending public money flying round the world to do this.
"We're interested, as a value-for-money committee, to make sure the Government's policies are effective and efficient and economic and plainly if they are conflicting with each other or there is poor information then there is a chance they won't be those things, so surely if the Australians can manage it and the Americans can manage it we ought to manage it too."
He said a report had described the "frosty image" projected by the UK which was damaging the UK and universities' receipts at a time when the government was also telling universities they needed to depend more on external income.
"The issue of how the statistics are treated is central to this and surely it would be more effective to use statistics which doesn't suggest students, genuine students, are something which they are not?
"I am saying the apparent adherence to what you call an international agreement isn't something that troubles other countries... the apparent unwillingness to deal with this problem is damaging this country and making your policies and the use of public money less effective."
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