Liam Fox rebuked by Theresa May for stance on students and migration figures

Written by Tom Freeman and Kevin Schofield on 16 March 2017 in News

Scottish Government warns of impact of 'damaging rhetoric' on immigration as UK Government rift on international students revealed

Liam Fox - PA

Downing Street has denied a claim by Liam Fox that the Prime Minister may not include foreign students in official migration figures.

The International Trade Secretary told a Lords committee ​"an ongoing argument inside government" was raging over the current policy, which sees foreign students included in the numbers, and that he had made his views clear to Home Secretary Amber Rudd, who last year announced a consultation on reducing the number of students from overseas.

"I think there is a value for those who come and study in the United Kingdom," Fox told peers. "I 100 per cent accept the point that they will be in many cases imbued by the values that they experience while they are here; many of them will go on to establish long-term relationships with the United Kingdom, understanding our institutions."


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Asked whether Dr Fox's remarks meant the policy was being looked at again, the Prime Minister's spokesman said: "No."

He added: "The Prime Minister has been clear over a long period of time that she believes students should continue to be included in the official migration statistics.

"A migrant is someone who has been here for 12 months or more. There is no cap on genuine students coming here. We recognise the huge contribution they make.

"It's important for planning purposes for local authorities and government that we know who is coming into the country and who is leaving."

The Scottish Government said the "damaging rhetoric" on immigration from the UK Government ahead of leaving the European Union was damaging the status of universities.

Scotland's Higher Education Minister Shirley-Anne Somerville yesterday met with representatives from Scotland's universities.

“The UK Government’s damaging rhetoric on immigration and refusal to clarify the post-Brexit status of EU nationals is extremely worrying and is already affecting the sector’s ability to recruit and retain international staff and students," she said.

"Let me be clear: they are very much welcome in Scotland.

“Another concern is future access to EU research funding - particularly the Horizon 2020 programme which has provided more than €217 million to our universities. That’s why our aim is to keep Scotland in the single market, so we continue to be part of EU education and research programmes.”

University of Glasgow Principal and Chair of the Standing Council on Europe, Professor Anton Muscatelli, said: “The ability to attract and retain the best global talent is what puts Scottish education among the very best in the world. Securing freedom of movement is therefore key to the future of the sector. I am very pleased this has been recognised by the Scottish Government as it set out its position on Brexit.”

The latest Office for National Statistics release showed the number of students coming to the UK dropped 41,000 in the year to September 2016.

The Government has stuck by its pledge to cut net migration below 100,000 – despite the most recent figure showing 273,000 more people came to the UK than left.

A total of 134,000 people came to the UK for long-term study, compared to the estimated 62,000 people who left the UK after originally arriving as students. 

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