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Report Casts Doubt on International Student Migration

Posted by Richard Ward in ,

Image courtesy of Flickr, Creative Commons

The government's own statistics watchdog has warned that estimates of the number of international students remaining in the UK are potentially misleading and should be treated with caution.

The Office for Statistics Regulation investigated the quality of long-term student migration figures and subsequently advised the Office for National Statistics to downgrade its estimates to "experimental" status.

Recent ONS figures show non-EU student inflow and outflow have resulted in around 90,000 former international students a year remaining in the UK.

The figures helped fuel political demands to clamp down on student visas, which Theresa May backed as home secretary, despite concerns it would harm the UK's university sector.

The recent report has now cast doubt on the reportedly high levels of students overstaying their visas.

The report said: "Former-student emigration could reasonably be expected to be lower than student immigration, due to the range of outcomes of former students, but it is unclear whether it occurs on the scale seen in the ONS estimates."

Commenting on the report, Ed Humpherson, the OSR's director general, suggested ONS's migration report should carry more warnings on its limitations.

Mr Humpherson also raised concerns that the figures alone do not provide information on all the different outcomes for international students.

The investigative report was backed by the Russell Group of universities, which previously lobbied for international students to be excluded from the UK's migration statistics.

Sarah Stevens, the Russell Group's head of policy, said: "If we are asking policy-makers to take decisions based on dubious figures it is hard to see how we can end up with a system of student immigration that delivers for the UK."

The report concluded that until the ONS can produce a more complete and coherent picture of former student migration, the statistics should be labelled as experimental.