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The majority of international students in Britain do not feel welcome – have we all lost the plot?

By Rory Tingle, NUS Journalist

Foreign students matter. They really matter. As well as contributing £8bn to the British economy, set to rise to £17bn by 2025, they help us forge links in a globalised world – creating future allies and trading partners.

So the results of a survey by the National Union of Students, which found that 50.7% of them feel that the UK Government is either “not welcoming” or “not at all welcoming”, is deeply worrying.

The cause of this dissatisfaction is clear: David Cameron’s decision to include international students in net migration figures, which he promised to decrease by 150,000 over the course of this Government.

The two main drivers of this – immigration from the EU and the number of people leaving the UK – are impossible to control. International students are therefore an easy target.

While there is no specific quota, the Government is certainly making it harder to those who wish to study in Britain.
The new immigration bill will require them to pay up to £200 a year to use the NHS – which 74.4% of non-EU students said would make it “impossible” or “more difficult” to study in the UK.

This comes on top of a tightening of visa restrictions in 2012, which Boris Johnson warned could harm the economy.
Meanwhile, our rivals in higher education – such as Australia – are desperately trying to attract more students from abroad, as they realise the huge benefits that they bring.

Clearly this is madness, but there is no point just blaming politicians. These ill-informed policies are the product of public hysteria over immigration, which they are simply pandering to.

Remember the catastrophic influx of Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants that has failed to materialise? It is worth considering this for a while to find out where we have gone so wrong.

The Daily Mail told us on 31 December that “almost all” flights from Romania were full; a spokesman from the Romanian airline, Blue Air, said that there were “loads of seats” available.

Meanwhile, contrary to claims from the same newspaper that there was also a rush for flights from Bulgaria, researchers at University College London told the BBC that demand for advance bookings was actually lower than the same time last year.

Shoddy stories like this – which may one day be consulted by historians alongside phony French invasion scares – whip us into a frenzy, and create an environment in which facts are superfluous.

It we are going to have a sensible immigration policy, we need to have a rational political debate about the positives and negatives of immigration. If we had this, we would quickly see just how beneficial international students are to the UK.
Our education sector has thrived – and become the second most popular in the world after the US – partly because of a tradition of receptivity to the demands of a globalised world.

Indeed, it would not be unreasonable to use this openness as an explanation for why we attract the most direct foreign investment of any country in Europe.

Britain is still a great place to study, with a survey by Regent’s University in London last year finding that four out of five international students backed the quality of their course.

Similarly, their perception of ordinary Britons is overwhelmingly positive, with almost 9 in 10 saying they felt welcome.
Yet students from abroad do not see this when they apply. All they see is cumbersome and obstructive application system, and news reports that present us as hostile and xenophobic.

It is time to tell our Government that we want foreign students in our universities: for their talent, their connections, and yes, their money. If we don’t, they will simply go elsewhere.