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Like the noble Lord, Lord Patten, and all other noble Lords, I find it particularly bizarre that in this brave new world, where we want to be outward-facing, persuade the world to trade with us and attract people to study at our universities, we still persist in including students in the immigration figures, which, as the noble Baroness has just said, sends out bad feelings. It is perception that is important. The noble Lord may be right that we are welcoming everyone but, even if that were true—and I am not sure it is—the perception is that we are not, and that is a big problem.
In an earlier debate on an amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, which unfortunately I missed although I supported his amendment, he said he was searching for ways in which,
“the university sector could organise and present itself so that the nation would be on its side and it would be equipped with the data”.—[
Of course I agree with that, but I would add, as the noble Lord, Lord Patten, said, that the public are already onside, with 57% of them saying that foreign students should not be in the immigration figures compared with 32% who thought that they should be. So as the Government are so determined to pursue a hard Brexit because a mere 52% of the population voted in favour of leaving the EU while 48% were against, why can they not now act on the 57% who say that they would be content with taking students out of the immigration figures?
We are all against bogus institutions, and we are glad that the Government have acted on that. We are all against those who overstay, but the figures on overstaying cited in the past by the Government are, at best, merely estimated and, at worst, being used for political ends. When will better data be available, and when will the consultation on the study immigration route be concluded?
I well understand the political importance of immigration and immigration figures, as well as the concerns expressed by the citizens of our country. However, bona fide students studying at bona fide institutions are not economic migrants but visitors, and that is the view of the people of this country. I hope that the Government will act accordingly.