International students are worth too much to Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 06:30 05 June 2012 | UPDATED: 15:14 05 June 2012

Prof Edward Acton vice-chancellor at UEA

Prof Edward Acton vice-chancellor at UEA

Government plans to include international students in a new cap on immigration will have a “terrible” effect on the Norfolk and Norwich economy, the University of East Anglia has warned.

Edward Acton, vice-chancellor of the UEA, last night revealed its 2011 cohort of non-EU students would be worth £35.6m over the duration of their courses, and more than £20m just in their first year, in tuition fees alone.

He said a future reduction in numbers would leave the Norwich university a “much-diminished enterprise” and warned the impact on the city and county as a whole would also be significant.

His comments follow a letter sent to the prime minister by Universities UK, and signed by about 70 university leaders, detailing the economic impact the government’s crackdown could have.

Westminster has pledged to cut net immigration in the UK to less than 100,000 and that policy currently includes international students from non-EU countries.

With the latest immigration figures last month revealed to be a stubbornly-high 250,000, critics fear the only way to reach the target will be to reduce the number of foreign students granted visas.

Prof Acton said the UEA currently had 2,900 non-British students with 2,300 of them coming from outside the European Union. About 1,700 non-EU students joined the university in 2011 alone.

The vice-chancellor said every 10 international students were believed to support six jobs in the economy through their attendance at university and use of services in the community including cinemas, shops, bars and “everything you can think of in Norwich”.

“Cut that and we have a terrible effect on the Norfolk and Norwich economy,” he said. “For local businesses this is a really desirable source of demand. Hobbling it as the Home Office is doing is deeply bad news for the local, regional and national economy.

“At a time when our balance of payments is terrible and employment is ghastly, we will be hobbling what’s become a very, very important source of income.”

Students are one of the biggest sources of migrants in the UK and university leaders say foreign students are already being deterred as it becomes more and more difficult to secure visas.

Prof Acton’s concerns have been echoed by both the political and business worlds.

This week, Norfolk and Suffolk’s business community added its voice to the growing calls to discount international students from net immigration figures.

New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) wrote a letter to David Cameron stressing the need to “capitalise” on the growing trend to study abroad.

In the letter, New Anglia’s chairman Andy Wood said the plans would undermine local enterprise partnerships’ efforts to “remove impediments to the UK’s economic growth.”

He added: “Neither the country nor our university cities can afford the damage that current policy is doing to our position and once-welcoming image in key markets.”

South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon said he also strongly supported the UEA vice-chancellor’s position and knew many of his Westminster colleagues shared his view.

The politician said international students were “valuable economic assets”, not only in terms of the money generated through tuition fees but also that spent while living over here – and in the current economic climate the country could not afford to damage that.

Mr Bacon said very few international students went on to live and work long term in the UK and the government had to make sure it was concentrating on the right issue.

“They study, they get on a plane, and they go home,” he said. “I’ve not problem with the Home Office decision to break the link between study and full time work in the long term and the other thing I would strongly support is the crackdown on dodgy foreign language colleges. That is an absolute out and out abuse. I don’t think there’s anybody who wouldn’t support that. But that’s different from legitimate supporters of high quality educational institutions.”

Immigration minister Damian Green insisted universities would not be hit by the government’s immigration policy. He said: “There is no limit on the number of genuine students who can come to the UK and our reforms are not stopping them. But we are determined to prevent the abuse of student visas as part of our plans to get net migration down to the tens of thousands.”

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