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Higher Education and the 2015 general election

  • 30 April 2014
  • By Nick Hillman

In a new book published today by Bright Blue, I argue:

  • that tuition fees are probably here to stay;
  • that higher education is unlikely to be a major election issue in 2015; and
  • that the Coalition should change course on international students.

The chapter is written in a personal capacity, as Bright Blue is a partisan organisation with strong links to the Conservative Party. It needs to be read in full to get the full argument but three short extracts from the section on international students are provided below to give a taste of my conclusion.

  • ‘There are three problems with conveying a lukewarm rather than a wholehearted welcome to students from outside the European Union. First, international students bring enormous economic, social and cultural benefits to the UK. Second, British voters are not nearly as opposed to student migrants as they are to other migrants… Third, the vast majority of international students leave the UK after their studies. Blocking someone from coming to the UK to spend lots of money before going home again, while leaving a useful imprint behind, is irrational.’
  • ‘One the boldest higher education reforms undertaken by Margaret Thatcher was to end the public subsidy on international students, so that they had to pay their full costs. It was deeply controversial at the time but, rather than deterring foreign students, it provided new incentives to encourage them to come here. No longer were they a cost to the taxpayer that needed capping. This created the conditions for selling the benefits of a British education across the world and, today, educational exports generate £17.5 billion a year for the UK economy. By constraining growth on that, we are missing an excellent export opportunity and the Coalition is reneging on one of Thatcherism’s most important free-trade measures.’
  • ‘The head of the Number 10 Policy Unit, Jo Johnson, is likely to play a key role in the preparations for the next Conservative manifesto. Before taking on the job, he wrote persuasively on the problems that arise from the current practice of classifying international students alongside other migrants and called for a change: “Changing the way students are classified will have little effect on the government’s ability to control medium to long-term net migration. The success in tackling bogus colleges and fraudulent student visa applications has created the political space in which a change to the classification is now conceivable. The government faces real choices over policy on international students. The difference they make to long-term net migration is relatively small. The difference these choices make to the education sector, to Britain’s soft power around the world and to the UK economy is very significant.” Anyone who wants the UK to be an open trading nation, including in educational services, must hope Johnson’s view is reflected in the [Conservative Party] manifesto.’

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