Higher Education and Research Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:45 pm on 26th April 2017.

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Photo of Jo Johnson Jo Johnson Minister of State (Department for Education) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Minister of State (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Education) 3:45 pm, 26th April 2017

We can certainly say that visa applications have risen by around 10% since 2011, although there might be fluctuations from year to year. That has been the case for many periods in the history of international students coming to study in this country. There has not been a story of continued growth; there have been ups and downs. Since 2010, which is a longer timeframe, we have seen applications up by around 10%.

Lords amendment 156 could do real damage. For example, it would prevent international students being treated as long-term migrants. The internationally recognised definition of a long-term migrant is anyone moving countries for a period of more than a year. If we were not able to apply to international students the key features of our work immigration regime, such as the need to obtain a time-limited visa that specifies the terms on which the migrant can come and a requirement to return home upon expiry of the visa, that could undermine our whole student migration system. I cannot advise the House to agree to that amendment.

Secondly, the Lords amendment would prohibit any change to the future student migration regime that could be interpreted as more restrictive than that in force when the Bill is passed. Any future changes—even minor technical changes—would require fresh primary legislation rather than being made by immigration rules laid before Parliament. I do not believe that that would be sensible or helpful, particularly given how crowded the forthcoming legislative programme is likely to be.

That said, I recognise the strength of feeling on the issue, so I am pleased to ask the House to support amendments (a) to (c) in lieu of Lords amendment 156. The Bill already creates for the first time a requirement for information on higher education providers to be published. It also puts in place a statutory duty to consider what would be helpful to students on higher education courses here, prospective students and higher education providers. Our amendments expressly extend that important new duty to cover what information would be useful to current or prospective international students in higher education and to the providers that recruit them or are thinking of doing so. They will also specifically require a consideration of the publication of international student numbers. All this is designed to help to ensure that as much information as possible is available about the UK’s offer to international students. We have a good story to tell and the Government are keen to ensure that it is told.

The Bill is long overdue. It will streamline the higher education system’s regulatory architecture. It will give students more choice and opportunity. It will strengthen our world-class research and innovation capabilities, and it will enhance the competitiveness and productivity of our economy. I thank all Members for their constructive engagement throughout the Bill’s passage.