A recent study by British Future and Universities UK shows that 59% of the British public think the government should not reduce the number of international students migrating to the UK. Instead, the report proposes that students should be distinguished from other types of migrants.
In the year 2012-2013 the United Kingdom received around 300,000 international students. These made up nearly a third of the total number of immigrants. Of the 2,111 people surveyed, only 22% felt students should be counted with other immigrants. Instead, they suggest students should be reclassified and removed from general figures on UK immigration; other types of immigration could therefore be reduced without affecting students.
The report suggests one reason the public are more positive about student migration is its positive economic effects: student migrants are estimated to bring nearly £7 billion into the economy each year. A large proportion of this is paid in tuition fees which can extend up to £18,000 per year and are vital for funding the world class research conducted by many universities across Britain.
British Future also suggest that the British public do not view all migrants in the same way. Their findings show that the public are capable of taking a nuanced view of immigration and can distinguish between different types of migrants. This can be seen even from notoriously anti-immigration UKIP sympathisers, as 53% would not support a reduction in numbers of international students. UKIP join Labour, the SNP and the Liberal Democrats in supporting removal of students from migration figures.
However, if we begin to construct a hierarchy of immigrants, what happens to those who end up at the bottom? If “taking a nuanced view of immigration” results in the construction of ‘desirables’ and ‘undesirables’, is it really so beneficial? Distancing international students from the term ‘immigrant’ because they are beneficial to our economy suggests those who are left under the label are detrimental. Consequently the vital contributions made by labour migrants and thousands of others each year would be devalued and stigmatised. This British Future is perhaps a lot more prejudiced than it would first appear.