International Education Strategy

– in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 22nd May 2019.

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Photo of Adrian Bailey Adrian Bailey Labour/Co-operative, West Bromwich West 4:30 pm, 22nd May 2019

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the International Education Strategy.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I emphasise that I will try to keep my remarks brief, because I know other Members with a high degree of expertise on this subject wish to contribute to the debate. In a previous incarnation as the Chair of the then Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, my Committee conducted an inquiry into this matter, and the issues we found and the potential solutions that we came to are as relevant now as they were then.

Before I go into the details, let me say clearly that I welcome the publication of the strategy. Whatever subsequent criticisms I may make, it is a welcome recognition and a very effective portrayal of the fact that education is not just a public investment in future skills in this country; the quality of our educational offer is such that, over and above that, it is a major income earner for this country, sustaining hundreds of thousands of jobs, often in the most economically disadvantaged regions.

To repeat some of the statistics in the report, we have four universities in the world’s top 10, and 18 in the top 100. That sector is only the peak of a globally recognised education system that provides for the early years foundation stage to A-levels. The net financial benefits to this country’s economy are estimated to be £20 billion, and the sector supports 940,000 jobs. It is estimated that somewhere between 50 and 58 current world leaders were educated at British universities. I assume that the vagueness in the figure is something to do with the vicissitudes of public life, with which we are all familiar. The quality of their British education and British experience is a valuable source of good diplomatic relations for Britain, and in a post-Brexit world, it will be even more important to sustain that if we are to develop our international trade.

In short, we have a great product that brings us enormous benefits in hard cash and soft power. That is allied to a rapidly expanding world market. Precise statistics are difficult to get, but all available evidence shows that students, particularly in the emerging economic powerhouses such as China and India, are increasing in numbers and are highly selective and mobile in their choice of destination to continue their studies. Not surprisingly, as English is the global business language, it is English-speaking countries that start with an advantage in attracting those students, as they can develop their subject expertise while polishing their English language skills.

Given all the advantages this country has, we must ask why our performance has been so limp. The Minister will say—I acknowledge this—that there has been an increase in the absolute number of foreign students being educated in this country, but since 2012 international student enrolments here have grown by 5%, compared with 31%, 67%, and 32% in the USA, Australia, and New Zealand respectively. In 2013, the Government set a target to have international students contributing a net £30 billion a year to the UK economy.

Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham Labour, Coventry South

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this timely debate. International students can act as ambassadors for us in a funny sort of way, because they understand the culture of the country. More importantly, the two universities in my constituency, the University of Warwick and the University of Coventry, are involved in research and development in the motor car trade, medical facilities or medicines and other such things. Does my hon. Friend agree that when students go back to their own countries, their knowledge of what we can do and can produce may, in a roundabout way, help our trading relationship with those countries?

Photo of Adrian Bailey Adrian Bailey Labour/Co-operative, West Bromwich West

As a fellow west midlands MP, my hon. Friend will have shared the experience of the enormous investment that is coming to the region from Indian entrepreneurs who were educated in this country. That is a hard economic benefit that has accrued.

To get back to the point I was making, we have only achieved £23 billion of the benefit that was targeted way back in 2013.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Labour, East Ham

My hon. Friend is making an important case. Has he seen the figures I have seen, which suggest that the number of students coming from India in the last year for which there is data—2017-18—is about half what it was in 2010-11?

Photo of Adrian Bailey Adrian Bailey Labour/Co-operative, West Bromwich West

I will touch on that when I talk about the impact the visa regime has had.

The revised target in the strategy is to have 600,000 students contributing a net £35 billion to the economy by 2030. That would require a growth rate of something like 4% per annum. Whatever the headline figures, that seems an unambitious target. It is lower than we achieved between 2013 and 2018, which in itself was a long way behind our major competitors. The target would perpetuate a system where we are lagging behind in building market share in the very important world market in education.

There is constant repetition within the strategy about the opportunities that we will have once we have left the EU. In all my dealings on this issue, I have never heard anyone say that we are losing our market share because of the EU. I have heard plenty of other explanations, but I do not want our discussion to become hostage to a more partisan debate on our membership of the EU. Whether we are in or out, it is vital that we take the right steps now to maximise the contribution of international students to our economy.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Labour/Co-operative, Leeds North West

One of the flagship programmes for our student exchange is the Erasmus programme. Non-EU countries can take part in that, but they must accept freedom of movement. Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be hugely detrimental for the UK to leave the Erasmus programme and that the Government must do everything they can to ensure we remain within it?

Photo of Adrian Bailey Adrian Bailey Labour/Co-operative, West Bromwich West

Absolutely. I do not intend to go into the detail of the issues with the EU and students, but obviously the Erasmus programme is enormously attractive. Notwithstanding the Government’s good intentions to perpetuate it, there is still a huge degree of uncertainty. Any future strategy must involve perpetuating that programme.

In 2013, the tier 1 post-study work visa was abolished and stringent requirements were placed on international graduates who wanted to work in the UK following their studies. As a result, the number of students remaining to work following their studies fell by 87% between 2011 and 2016, from nearly 47,000 to just over 6,000. When the BIS Committee visited China in 2012, that was a big issue raised by our Chinese hosts. Similarly, in India it is a highly contentious issue, which I know has been raised by the host Government with our Government and business deputations ever since. The perception is that Britain no longer welcomes foreign students. However often the Government repeat the mantra that we are open for business, while we have a restrictive visa regime, and reported difficulties in obtaining visas, potential applicants will be deterred and our ability to compete with rival countries will be inhibited.

It is understandable that the brightest and best from other countries will want to come here not only for their education, but to use and contribute to our top class research, either in the private sector or the field of academia. From the UK’s perspective, it is ridiculous to invest money in developing talent only to then export it to other countries to use in their private sectors, sometimes in competition with companies in this country.

The fact is that far more generous post-study work offers are available in our competitor countries. That is why we are lagging. My disappointment with the strategy is that it does not identify the core problem, which explains what I consider to be our second rate performance, or provide evidence that the Home Office is willing to change it. The best the strategy offers are the so-called actions 3 and 4. Action 3 is:

“Government will strengthen the UK's visa offer for international higher education students”.

Action 4 is:

“The UK Government will keep the visa application process for international students under review”.

Those are warm words, but they are not strong or specific enough to motivate the brightest and best foreign students to choose the UK as opposed to other countries with a more generous and specific offer.

Why has this come about? The reason is the Government’s flawed and failed target to reduce net migration to below 100,000. The compilation of statistics of student movements within the net migration figures is worthy of a debate in itself. I do not have time to go into it in depth, but I will make two observations. First, there is considerable polling evidence that the public are far more supportive of the right of students to study and to work for at least two years thereafter than they are tolerant of other forms of immigration. About 75% of people support that approach.

Secondly, the statistical basis of compiling student immigration statistics using the international passenger survey, which was the basis used to introduce the visa policy, was seriously flawed. It overstated the number of students overstaying—the proportion is now considered to be less than 3%. In short, we have a student visa regime that is based on flawed statistics, that runs contrary to public opinion, and that undermines both our ability to recruit the maximum number of students and the economic benefits of our amazing institutions. That is one reason I will support the amendment tabled by Joseph Johnson, who I am glad is present, to the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill.

In chapter 1.7 of the strategy, titled “A whole-of-government approach”, different Departments are listed as supporting the strategy, including the Foreign Office, the Department for Education, the Department for International Trade, the Department for International Development, and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The conspicuous absentee is the Home Office. Perhaps the Minister can explain why the Home Office is missing from the whole-of-Government approach, when its particular responsibilities are central to the policy’s success.

It is vital that the Home Office is signed up to both the policy and the processes if we are to meet, and hopefully exceed, our targets. The policy will be successful only if we have a visa regime that is competitive with rival providers. I ask the Minister what work the Department is doing with the Home Office to ensure that the visa offer, and the associated costs and processes, are at least as attractive—preferably more attractive—than other national providers?

I would like to discuss many other issues, but I will leave time for other Members to contribute. Unless the Minister can provide an adequate answer on the core issue, I suspect that in five years’ time our successors will debate it again, and we will be further behind in the vital race to secure the potential economic benefits from this market.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

Order. The debate can last until 5.30 pm. I am obliged to call the Front-Bench spokespeople at no later than 5.07 pm. The guideline limits are five minutes for the Scottish National party, five minutes for Her Majesty’s Opposition and 10 minutes for the Minister. If the Minister leaves two minutes at the end for Mr Bailey to wind up, that will be appreciated. Until 5.07 pm, a small but select number of Members, with considerable experience, seek to contribute. To ensure that everyone gets a say there will be a five-minute limit. I call John Howell.

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley 4:46 pm, 22nd May 2019

Thank you, Mr Hollobone; it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship and to follow Mr Bailey. I agree with his description of what we have to offer. The UK has a lot to offer in this area.

As the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Nigeria—I will concentrate on Nigeria in my remarks—I am committed to raising education standards around the world. That is important to strengthen our soft power regime globally, and to strengthen the international partnerships on which many things are based, including international business and everyday relationships.

I am pleased that we are looking at the value of our education exports, and that DFID is helping to promote them. In Nigeria, for example, DFID has been doing brilliant work in key areas, such as helping headteachers to develop their skills and to become much more effective. It has also helped to increase the competence of teachers within that country. Many schools are participating, and the number of those that want to do so has shot up enormously.

I gently take issue with the hon. Gentleman on market share, which I think should be seen not only in terms of bringing people to the UK, but in terms of what we can bring to the countries to which we are trying to export our education. I have been trying to encourage the sort of joint ventures with which I am familiar in the business world between educational establishments in the UK and in Nigeria. I will come to why I am doing that in a second, because I think it will be music to his ears. This debate is not just about straightforward education; it is also about skills, which is important to bear in mind.

In fact, there is a member of the Government who comes from Nigeria but was educated here, at Eton. That is to be applauded, but it is not the end of the story. We have the second largest diaspora in the world here, and we need to encourage them to participate in creating educational links. That is absolutely essential somewhere like Nigeria, because in parts of the country there is enormous resentment of foreign activity—particularly in the north-east, where Boko Haram will not accept British educational expertise for the sole reason that it is foreign. We are developing a two-tier system where the rich can come to the UK, but those who are not so rich have to stay in their home country. I am trying to establish these joint ventures because it is essential that we do something to help to break down that two-tier system and spread as much prosperity as possible in other countries—not just to provide people with a better education, although that is important, but because it is the only way to stop the terrorists in the north-east of Nigeria and elsewhere.

I am looking for British schools to go to Nigeria and set up in partnership with local schools. I hope that they will be able to deliver the prosperity on which we and so many Nigerians depend; I am quite encouraged by what I have seen so far. That ought to be taken into account in developing the market share idea, because it is an important part of developing their overseas strategy as well as ours.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Labour, East Ham 4:51 pm, 22nd May 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I very much support the arguments that my hon. Friend Mr Bailey made. I share his worry about our falling market share with respect to the overseas students we support in the UK. I want to speak about one problem that has particularly hit our performance.

In 2011, the Home Office gave a licence to the American firm ETS to deliver the TOEIC—test of English for international communication—in the UK. Over the following three years, more than 58,000 overseas students took that test to demonstrate that they spoke good enough English to study here. In February 2014, “Panorama” exposed the significant scale of cheating at TOEIC centres that took place with the connivance of their proprietors.

ETS responded by undertaking an analysis of its recordings of all 58,000 tests over the three years. It concluded that 33,725 candidates had definitely cheated and 22,694 had probably cheated, which adds up to virtually all of them. As a result of the allegations, more than 35,000 of the students lost their visas and many were thrown off their courses midway through. Appeals were not permitted in the UK, and the students involved lost all the fees that they had paid.

Five years later, the plight of many is dire. Last night in the Attlee Suite, the film-maker Tim Langford premièred “Inquisition”, a deeply disturbing and compelling short film about the plight of five students who are still in the UK. There is a moving article in The Guardian today about the plight of three students who gave up and left the UK and who are now in a terrible situation in their home countries. Those who are still here are not allowed to study or work. Many of them depend on support from friends. Some had invested their family’s life savings in obtaining a British degree and are now destitute, have no qualifications, and have apparently been found guilty of cheating by the UK authorities.

It is now becoming clear that many—probably most—of those who lost their visas in that way did not cheat. The National Audit Office has recognised the problem and is due to report on the scandal on Friday. I welcome the Home Secretary’s recent announcement that after the report is published he will make an oral statement in the House about proposals to address what happened. However, although the 58,000 students who sat the test were from a great number of countries around the world, the largest numbers came from the Indian subcontinent: 6,000 from Bangladesh, 8,000 from India, 10,000 from Pakistan, 1,000 from Nepal and 1,000 from Sri Lanka. Unsurprisingly, in the light of how we have treated those students, there has been a very big fall in the number of people who have come from those countries since the TOEIC scandal: 48.5% fewer started their first year of tertiary education here in 2017-18 than in 2010-11.

One very disappointing aspect of what happened is that students who were thrown off their courses and plunged into crisis received very little support from their universities. At the film première last night, a UK university immigration adviser said that the university that he worked for at the time had forbidden him to assist the students affected. It will take a lot of work to repair the damage that the scandal has caused to the reputation of UK higher education.

Where students are able to regain their visas, perhaps following a statement from the Home Secretary in the next couple of weeks, does the Minister agree that their former universities need to help them? In particular, does he agree that it would be wholly unacceptable for the universities to require those students to start their courses and pay their fees all over again?

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) 4:56 pm, 22nd May 2019

I congratulate Mr Bailey, the former Chair of the Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills, on giving us the opportunity to discuss this important issue.

As hon. Members have said, our world-class universities have been a great asset for our country for generations. They have attracted young, bright people from all over the world, giving them an opportunity to receive a first-class higher education and giving us an opportunity to inculcate an understanding of our culture and worldview. That has ensured that we do not recede as a cultural reference point, which is more important than ever now that we are doing Brexit.

It is a huge asset for us that more world leaders have been educated in the UK than in any other country but the US. Frankly, I am concerned that the next generation of world leaders—the next Bill Clintons, the next Benazir Bhuttos—may not choose to study in the UK. All of us in Parliament have a duty to ensure that they put the UK at the very top of the list of countries around the world where they want to study.

Frankly, one would think that a Government committed to global Britain and to extolling the projection of our values around the world would do more to cultivate the important opportunity that international students offer us. As hon. Members have made clear, however, part of the problem is that since 2010 we have included students in our net migration target, so we are doing precisely the opposite: through a welter of restrictive Home Office policies, we are deterring people from choosing the UK over other countries. That explains our substantial underperformance in comparison with core competitors around the world.

Of course market share is not the be-all and end-all of any activity, but it is an important indicator of competitiveness and we are losing it very rapidly: our market share has fallen from approximately 12% in 2010 to just 8% in 2016. We must look seriously at why that significant rate of decline is happening. As hon. Members have said, we are seeing some growth in absolute terms, but there has been a dramatic fall in the proportion of students from some of the most important countries in the market for international higher education, including India, which Stephen Timms rightly mentioned.

Like other hon. Members, I welcome the publication of the international education strategy: it is good that we have an ambitious goal for higher education and other education exports. My hon. Friend John Howell was right to say that exports can come in many forms—not just students coming here, but transnational education, for example.

We should not be phobic about international students coming to study in this country, but I am afraid that is the impression that we have all too often given because of the Home Office’s restrictive approach. That is why I and Paul Blomfield have tabled a new clause to the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill that would acknowledge the important contribution of international students in two key ways. First, it would insure universities against the risk that a Government will decide to reduce net migration swiftly by slashing international student numbers. Any future Government who intend to cap numbers will first have to secure parliamentary approval.

Secondly, the new clause will ensure that we take a much smarter approach to post-study work. As hon. Members have already said, it has been severely restricted in recent years on the back of shoddy evidence produced by the Home Office back in 2012-13. Students will invest their time, money and human capital elsewhere if a competitive post-study work regime is not available in a particular country. Our core competitors—the US, Canada and New Zealand—offer international students the chance to work for up to three years after graduation, and Australia offers up to four years. Hacked back to just four months in 2012, our offer is simply not competitive. Although the international education strategy promises to increase that to six months, it is still not enough. Twelve months for some more advanced courses is also not enough.

While we wait for the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill to come back to the House on Report, I urge the Minister to look at the strong support the new clause has from MPs of all parties, and to assure me that the Government will take steps to welcome the clause and implement its recommendations.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities & Local Government) (Planning) 5:01 pm, 22nd May 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr Hollobone. I thank my hon. Friend Mr Bailey for securing this extremely important debate and for his excellent opening speech, which reminded us all of the need to champion and support our higher education sector in the UK.

We know that almost 450,000 non-UK-domiciled students study in UK universities, which contributes about £19 billion to our economy—about £95,000 per student—and supports over 200,000 jobs. It is clearly a sector that we need to support. I welcome the Government’s international education strategy and their ambition to increase education exports to £35 billion and grow the number of international students to 600,000 by 2030. I hope we see in the report a change in the mood music coming from the Government, because we need overseas students to know they will be welcomed and supported in the UK.

I acknowledge the widespread support in the sector for the strategy, but there are a number of questions, too. It would be really good to hear the Minister respond to some of the issues that hon. Members have already emphasised. First, the Government need to do something about the visa system. Students find it too complicated, too bureaucratic and too difficult to access in their own countries. As hon. Members said, there is also a huge issue with post-study work visas and how long they last, compared with what our competitors offer. We know that countries such as Australia, Canada and the US have recently seen high growth in international demand for study, while the total number of international students enrolled in the UK has stayed flat. I would say to Joseph Johnson that this is a hugely important point and we need to address it.

The chief executive of Universities UK, Alistair Jarvis, said in October 2018:

“Despite the quality and popularity of our universities as destination for international students, in recent years we’ve seen a declining market share in relation to competitors.”

If the Government are to deliver on their strategy, that clearly needs to stop. We also need to do something to ensure that we have reciprocal arrangements with Europe. The strategy does not say much about European students, and I would like to hear how the Minister intends to ensure that we do not lose students coming from Europe. The reciprocal arrangements are very important, as is identifying new markets.

I was very excited to read the industrial education strategy. There was something on regional priorities and I thought, “Great! The Government are going to look at our regional universities being a priority.” When I read it, I thought, “Oh dear, no.” Our priority is regions of the world. The middle east and Latin America are important for new markets, but we need to protect the markets we have as well as targeting cold spots. We have to recognise the importance of diversity in the sector. Durham University in my constituency brings to the city huge diversity, which would just not be there without it. That is something we need to celebrate and expand.

Hon. Members have talked about the importance of soft power. I have just come back from a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Education Foundation conference. Many leaders across the world were educated in the UK, and we need to ensure that our higher education sector can attract future leaders. We need to do that by recognising the importance of global mobility for our young people as well. We need to support the British Council more effectively and look at how scholars from overseas, including postgraduate students, contribute to our research base and innovation. We need to ensure that we recognise the importance of transnational education.

In my remaining time, I thank the hon. Member for Orpington for tabling his amendment to the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill. I totally support it and hope it is approved in due course.

Photo of Marion Fellows Marion Fellows SNP Whip, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Small Business, Enterprise and Innovation) 5:06 pm, 22nd May 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and I congratulate Mr Bailey on securing this important debate. It has been very interesting to listen to all the speeches. All those who contributed to the debate were very erudite, drawing on their experience, and passionate about the problems that the higher education sector is experiencing across the UK.

I am a member of the Education Committee, which in 2017 published “Exiting the EU: challenges and opportunities for higher education.” Many of the issues that have been raised today were also raised in that report—they were mainly challenges rather than opportunities. Looking down the years, I do not think much has changed in that respect. It saddens me to think that we will not be able to move forward. The report is good and expansive, and it would be wonderful if its recommendations were carried forward.

The biggest issue for Scottish universities is that we have four-year degrees, so three-year visas will just not cut it. The impact on our ability to attract students will be severe. We really need a separate immigration policy for Scotland, and Scottish National party MPs are fighting constantly for that.

The other issue is that the UK Government promised to replace overall EU funding with a shared prosperity fund. Despite repeated promises, there has not yet been any detail on how this will be equitably established and implemented. We have been promised new regulations that will affect the Higher Education and Research Act 2017. This is really important to Scotland, because since 2014 we have succeeded in drawing down £533 million of Horizon 2020 research funding.

We punch above our weight. Scotland has been particularly successful, attracting more than 11% of all funding that has been won competitively by UK organisations. Per head of population, we are outperforming Germany. All this is put at risk by the visa system and the reluctance of EU nationals and other prospective students from abroad to come to the UK because of the hostile environment that this Government have brought about through their immigration policies. I, too, welcome what Joseph Johnson is trying to do.

I am very worried that Scotland will lose out. Dr Blackman-Woods mentioned regions. Now, Scotland is frequently referred to in this place as a region. I do not think it is a region; it is a country. We have differences that must be addressed, because Scottish education does indeed punch above its weight and has had a well-deserved reputation for hundreds of years. Scottish higher education rose out of Scots’ outward European vision, going right back to just after the middle ages. Scots went to universities in Europe before there were any in Scotland, and brought back ideas and progress. Universities have been a major force in Scotland for 400 or 500 years. They are suffering because of the Government’s reluctance to do something about visas. That cannot be allowed to continue.

Photo of Judith Cummins Judith Cummins Shadow Minister (International Trade) 5:10 pm, 22nd May 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Bailey on securing this important debate. I thank all hon. Members who spoke, including my right hon. Friend Stephen Timms and my hon. Friend Dr Blackman-Woods.

International student numbers have increased year on year, and the Government have been quick to celebrate their success in growing education exports. However, we should note that the Department for Education has acknowledged that accurate data does not exist, so we cannot fully ascertain the export success of the sector. Although the figures may be rising, our performance relative to our peers, including Australia, Canada and the United States, leaves much to be desired. Given the time constraints in this debate, I will get straight to the point that hon. Members have made about international students and visas.

The all-party parliamentary group for international students noted last year that the Government’s hostile environment has resulted in a marked drop in the UK’s attractiveness as an education destination for international students. It notes that between 2012 and 2015, the UK recorded just 0.7% growth in international student numbers, compared with 22.5% in the US, 26.9% in Canada and 18% in Australia. Researchers at University College London found that the UK has already slipped behind Australia and the United States as the biggest destinations for international students, and warned that Canada is poised to overtake it. Universities UK data shows that the number of Indian students coming to the UK has approximately halved in the past five years.

The hostile environment policy vigorously pursued and rigorously applied by the Government has seen thousands of students denied the right to work after graduation. Thousands who were in the UK legally have had their student visas revoked, as the Government unfairly attempted to clamp down on international students. Universities UK also found that 98% of overseas students complied with their visa requirements. What message does that send to prospective students? Many students come to the UK in good faith to undertake a course of study but find themselves the victims of unscrupulous fraudsters. Instead of tackling the fraudsters, the Government have criminalised the students, who now may be seen as criminals.

The recent TOEIC cases, which my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham raised, highlight just how negligent and damaging the Government’s handling of this matter has been. Some 7,000 students have been found to have had their visas wrongly revoked over accusations of cheating. Students are left in a legal limbo, with their visas revoked through no fault of their own. They are barred from accessing public services and prevented from obtaining work or renting housing. Many find themselves barred from entering the United Kingdom for 10 years. The damage that that has done to our international reputation as a preferred destination for international students is clearly substantial.

The Government’s clumsy handling of trade talks with India will have done nothing to reverse that trend. The message is, “We want your business, but we don’t want your people.” The Government’s obsession with arbitrary immigration targets has slowed progress in talks about visa arrangements for students and workers. That is hurting our capacity to market UK education as an overseas export and sell Britain as a destination for foreign direct investment. It is likely to be a recurring issue in trade talks with other nations, given that the relaxing of mobility and visa arrangements is a key feature of modern trade agreements. Perhaps the Minister will tell us what the Government’s position on that matter will be, in respect of all the various trade agreements that they have promised, which have largely failed to materialise.

These issues have been compounded by the Government’s handling of Brexit. Since the EU referendum result, universities have reported a fall in the number of EU students—in particular, postgraduates—enrolling in British universities. EU students are reported to contribute up to £2.75 billion per year to the British economy through tuition fees and related costs. Additionally, approximately £1 billion in research funding to British universities is provided through the European Union.

It is now understood that the Government intend to withdraw home fee status from EU nationals from 2020 onwards, which is likely further to drive the decline in the number of international students. That is already squeezing the finances of many of our universities and stifling their capacity to plan for the future. Will the Minister set out precisely what the Government’s policy is in that respect? What impact will the proposed changes have on our education sector? That is in addition to the uncertainty about the future of Erasmus and Horizon 2020. How does the Minister intend to achieve the targets set out in the international educational strategy of boosting education exports to £35 billion a year and growing international student numbers by 600,000 by 2030?

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade) 5:16 pm, 22nd May 2019

It is a pleasure to take part in this debate. We have had well-informed contributions from across the House. I thank Mr Bailey for raising this important topic. When he chaired the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee and dealt with higher education, I chaired the Education Committee, and we worked in tandem.

As everyone has said, the UK has a wonderful education system. Despite its size, four of the world’s top 10 universities, and 18 out of the top 100, are here. We lead Europe in having the most highly rated universities. With early years, further education, our independent schools, our curriculum and syllabus providers, and so many assessment systems, we have a rich compost of educational provision in this country. It brings in £20 billion a year—significantly more than all sorts of large industries that we might think do a great deal more than education. It brings in real money, as has been said, and provides employment, often outside the areas we might expect. It provides well-paid jobs and opportunities in some of the more challenging parts of the UK, bringing expertise and people with certain skillsets to areas where they are most needed. It builds friendships around the world. As the investment Minister, I can say that it is extraordinary how often people choose to invest in this country because they or their family members have been educated here. That is an important part of our offer.

Photo of Ben Lake Ben Lake Plaid Cymru, Ceredigion

We have heard about the benefits that international students bring to the UK, and about the reputational risk of malign visa arrangements, but it is important to reflect, as the Minister just mentioned, on the fact that the economic impact of international students ripples out far beyond the locations of the particular universities. We know about the effect of universities such as Aberystwyth in my constituency, but a 2017 report showed that, in Wales, the impact of international students alone sustained more than 1,600 jobs in regions where there is not a university. That is an important point to bear in mind when we look at immigration policy.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade)

I am grateful for that contribution.

Most countries on Earth—some 160—use UK international qualifications in their national secondary exams. Thousands of international schools use the UK’s K12 curriculum, and almost 25,000 students attend more than 40 overseas UK schools. As I have said, the latest figures show that our exports are worth almost £20 billion. That includes transnational education, which has experienced the most meteoric rise in value, albeit from a lower base. Some 67% of the value of those exports comes from higher education, much of it in the form of international students—that has mostly dominated the debate this afternoon—of whom there were around 442,000 in 2016.

That is a great record. We punch above our weight, but I think that there is unanimity in the Chamber that we are not yet fulfilling our potential, considering the quality of what we have and the need around the world for that kind of quality and service. Frankly, that is why we have a refreshed international education strategy.

Perhaps because of my background, I find that education is one of the most interesting sectors that I deal with as a trade Minister. Education gives almost no negatives. It brings real money and builds links, and people who come here to study then form part of teams or found companies and innovate, when they might not otherwise have done so. We must be restless, forward looking and ambitious—as everyone in this Chamber has been—to ensure that the potential of emerging opportunities in the global economy are used to their fullest.

The rapid shifts in economic and demographic power across the global economy are creating opportunities in precisely the areas where the UK enjoys a competitive advantage. As my hon. Friend John Howell knows well, last year the Prime Minister set out an ambition that we should seek to become the largest G7 investor in Africa. We need to work with countries, such as Nigeria, across Africa—I just met an economic Minister from Tunisia—to bring companies of all sorts into Africa, and what better than companies that work in education?

We look to deliver through the strategy in several ways. The strategy recognises that it is not Government who export, but our educational providers and institutions. That is why it is a sector-led strategy. I am grateful to all colleagues across the House, whatever their criticisms of elements of Government strategy, for supporting this strategy, which has been well supported and much crafted by the sector. The sector-led strategy was developed in co-operation with educators and looks to address the practical barriers that they face to exporting, and to find the right tools to overcome them.

Yesterday, I met Destination for Education, which is a coalition of pathway providers—people who help others come into our system—including INTO, Kaplan and Study Group. We discussed their future engagement with Government and, in particular, how we can co-operate on changes to the student visa process and respond effectively to competition from rival markets, which so many hon. Members have mentioned. That is about Government listening to the needs of providers and adapting our approach as we go. Several key organisations and individuals have been involved in achieving that new level of engagement and dialogue.

If I may—without being invidious to some—I highlight the work of Universities UK International, the UK skills partnership, English UK and, in particular, the British Council and its chief executive Sir Ciarán Devane, for their invaluable help in setting up engagement sessions to allow us to take on board the views of a broad range of education providers. Those providers have a wide range of skills and experience when it comes to exporting, and the strategy is about catering to these diverse needs.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Labour, East Ham

Since the Minister has mentioned Universities UK, does he agree with my point that students who get their visas back after losing them because of a TOEIC cheating allegation should be helped by the universities to which they return, so they do not have to go back to square one and pay their fees all over again?

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade)

If a student finds themselves in that position, I hope and expect that the university would be supportive of their students. One of the strategy’s central aims is to ensure that we have a more welcoming offer. Sometimes there can be misconceptions and myths, but we need to recognise where we need to improve what we do, how we do it and the way that it is communicated. We recognise the need to do that in various markets if we are to meet the targets that we have set.

The strategy sets out to look at export data that we hold for education so that we have a more accurate basis on which to judge our success. At the strategy’s heart is an ambitious goal of achieving an increase in the value of our education exports to £35 billion per year, and to increase the number of international higher education students to 600,000 per year.

A lot of the focus of the debate has been on the visa issue. Although that is a Home Office issue rather than a trade Minister’s day job, at the heart of the strategy is a whole-of-Government approach, to put in place the practical, advisory and promotional support to strengthen the UK’s position at the forefront of global education, connect international partners, open markets and unlock new opportunities in rapidly growing areas such as education technology.

When I found that we had an education strategy that dated back to 2013 and was not on target, one of the first things I did was go and see the Secretary of State for Education. He came absolutely on board and was super supportive. I also reached out to Home Office colleagues; I do not know where the misunderstanding about the Home Office involvement in this strategy has come from, but it has really come forward and is an important part of the team. We are working together.

Colleagues will be aware that the Migration Advisory Committee made its recommendations, and the Government chose to go further than what MAC had suggested in terms of post-study provision. That is an indication of the Government’s commitment to getting that right. Matters are being kept under review, and if I were in Opposition, I might call that warm words, but it is much better than their not being under review.

We have our educational strategy; we are working as a team across Government; and we are committed to making sure that we get the whole package right so that we are as welcoming and competitive as we can be. The Home Office is fundamentally part of that, and is committed to keeping the immigration aspects of that package under review, in order to deliver in the appropriate way.

I probably have very little time left.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade)

Thank you, Mr Hollobone. Just to nail the Home Office point, action 6 sets out clearly that the UK Government will enhance the education sector advisory group, and that it will be supported with a representative from the Home Office. I hope it is embedded in there pretty clearly.

On the Indian visa front, during the year ending 18 December 2018, study-related visas issued to Indian students increased by 35%. Although colleagues were right to highlight the drop, there is a significant increase, and we are working hard to get that message out. Ninety-six per cent. of Indian students who apply for a visa get one. I appeal to everyone to challenge what is not right, but not to overemphasise the negative in a way that leads people to think that we are not open when we are.

Marion Fellows, speaking for the Scottish National party, mentioned four-year courses at Scottish universities being matched with inappropriate three-year visas. That situation is only in the event of no deal. As with so many of the points made by colleagues across the Chamber today, the obvious way to avoid the downsides that they have highlighted is to support the deal. The failure to support the deal, after standing on manifestos that in most cases promised to get us out of Europe, has contributed, so there is no point in shedding crocodile tears over a result driven by Members’ own voting decisions.

On ETS, there was clearly significant fraud. Twenty-five people involved in organising and facilitating language-test fraud have received criminal convictions, so there was a real issue.

Photo of Adrian Bailey Adrian Bailey Labour/Co-operative, West Bromwich West 5:28 pm, 22nd May 2019

This debate merits a much longer time being spent on it, given the quality and expertise shown in the contributions. A whole range of issues was raised.

I accept what John Howell said about the importance of transnational education, but I do not think this is either/or. A better visa offer, generating more foreign students coming to this country, would of itself mean more capital and more experience for those higher education or other institutions to carry out work in other countries as well. Ultimately, there would be a more all-embracing educational offer from this country.

I accept that the Minister and his team are fully signed up to this particular approach. I welcome his comments about Home Office involvement, but the fact remains that in the actual strategy, under the whole-of-Government approach among the Departments listed, the Home Office is a significant absentee. However, we will judge the strategy by what comes out of it. I very much hope that subsequent involvement of the Home Office, the Minister’s Department and other relevant Departments will demonstrate that they are addressing the issues raised today, as I am sure he will raise those issues with them.

Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(14)).