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My Lords, it is a pleasure to take part in this debate, and in doing so I declare my interests as set out in the register. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Norton on securing this debate. It is always an important time to talk about these issues. I also congratulate him on having developed one of the greatest government courses at university anywhere on the planet.
I also very much look forward to the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester. It is always good to know that more wisdom will be drifting up from the Bishops’ Benches to this Back-Bencher.
We have 10 minutes per speaker; in many ways, I could do this in 10 seconds. I say to my noble friend the Minister to take international students out of the net migration figures and, alongside that, end the visa vapidity.
I am fortunate to be chancellor of BPP University. We have hundreds of international students who come and enrich our student community every year. When they graduate, some stay; many go back to their home nations. Whether they stay or go, they make a positive contribution and 96% of them are in employment within six months of graduating from our institution. There are 58 current world leaders—Presidents or Prime Ministers—who studied at British universities. I say to my noble friend the Minister: are they not 58 good reasons why we should seriously consider our approach?
I have drawn previously in debates on the excellent words of Prime Minister Modi of India who summed up this problem quite clearly: “You want our trade, you do not want our children”. The message that we want to send from Parliament, and the one that we should want to send as a Government, is that we want your trade but we also want your children. We want the brightest and the best from all around the Commonwealth, the European Community and the world to come and study and be part of our higher education communities and part of our country.
As my noble friend Lord Norton said, there is an educational case and there is absolutely an economic case. If one were to approach a Government Minister and offer her or him a £20 billion-plus boon for the British economy, that would be a pretty exciting proposition. We have that in international students. Furthermore, over 200,000 jobs are supported through this brilliant business.
Quite rightly, in the current situation we are looking at sector deals in aviation and automotive. Let us consider higher education, yes, for its educational good but also for its economic impact. We need to look no further than this House and this debate to see the benefits. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, came as an international student. Can my noble friend the Minister consider curry without Cobra? If anything demonstrates the educational, economic, social and cultural benefits of international students, it is what the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, has brought to this nation.
From the statistics we learn, which will not come as a surprise to most of us, that we do not have a problem of mass overstaying by international students, draining our public services and pulling our country down. Initially, you could not rely on the statistics because they were not comparing like for like. We all suspected there was not a problem. We now know categorically that there is not. What problem are the Government seeking to solve by continuing to include international students in the net migration statistics? As my noble friend Lord Norton put it, it does not cut it to say that there is no cap on international students if they are included in a statistic which the Government are making all efforts to bring down.
It is a difficult point to make, but I think that we need to face it: there is good immigration and there is less good immigration. However, what you need with any immigration policy is clarity, transparency and consistency, and none of the study data, research or surveys gives any reason for having international students in those net migration statistics. When it comes to visas, we do not need counsels of prevention; we need counsels of prudence.
As a nation and as a Government, we decide and choose—we can plot that path. We should say to all nations, individuals and young people, “Ignore the rhetoric. Ignore what you are hearing. Believe this, because this has to be the truth. As a nation, as higher education institutions, we want you and we need you. Come and be part of our academic communities. Come and be part of our cities. Come and be part of making a better and brighter Britain”.