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Govt “gaming” net migration figs by counting students

Think tank urges Ministers to exclude students from target

The Government should switch to a more rational method of measuring student migration flows and only count students who stay on in the UK permanently in net migration figures, according to a new report published by the think tank IPPR today.

IPPR’s report argues that the current method of measuring student migration flows gives the Government a perverse incentive to cut international student numbers in the short term, rather than focusing on what it states is its real aim: reducing long-term net migration. Only around 15 per cent of students stay permanently and contribute to long-term net migration.

IPPR’s analysis suggests that the current method of measuring student migration flows provides the Government with an opportunity to “game” its own 2015 net migration target by reducing the number of genuine international students coming to the UK in 2012-14. Although this would have little impact on real long-term net migration - because most students do not stay long-term - it would have a significant short-term impact on the target.

The report shows that planned Government reductions in student migration would cost the UK £2-3bn a year in economic contributions from the loss of 50,000 students per year while having only a small impact on long-term net migration.

The report recommends that the Government switch to a more rational method of measuring student flows, which would give a true picture of the trade-offs between controlling long-term net migration and the benefits of international students to the economy and the education sector.

Sarah Mulley, IPPR Associate Director, said:

The Government need to take international students out of the immigration ‘numbers game’, which is damaging our universities and colleges, our economy and our international standing. This would enable Ministers to move back to a policy that supports rather than penalises one of the UK’s most important industries and sources of both future growth and global influence, without in any way hampering its stated objectives of controlling long-term net migration and continuing to target abuse of the student visa system.

“If the Government ignores these arguments and persists with the current method of measuring students for the purposes of meeting its net migration target in 2015, and therefore continues to regard a dramatic reduction in international students as an objective in its own right, it must admit that it is placing short-term political considerations above a genuine concern with long-term net migration.”

Notes to Editors

IPPR’s new report – International students and net migration in to the UK ­(by Matt Cavanagh and Alex Glennie) – is available to download from

Overall, around 400,000 students come to British colleges and universities each year and make up the major component of the UK’s £15bn-a-year education exports.

In 2010 there were 238,000 incoming students counting against the Government’s target – making up 40% of total “long term” immigration. But evidence suggests that only around 15 per cent of students stay permanently and contribute to long-term net migration.

The Migration Advisory Committee suggests Government needs to cut student migration by 90,000 to achieve their headline target, on the basis of current measures.

IPPR’s survey of the top ten countries for international students has found that three of them explicitly qualify students as temporary or ‘non-immigrant’ admissions. These countries are the United States, Australia, and Canada – the UK’s main competitors in the global market for international students.


Richard Darlington, 07525 481 602,


Tim Finch, 07595 920 899,


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