On Thursday 24th July, Million+, a think tank associated with non-Russell Group Universities, announced its support for the centre right think tank ‘Bright Blue’ in its campaign to have students removed from the net migration target. Million+, whose affiliates obviously have a significant interest in high fee-paying overseas students, and Bright Blue, which appears to be funded by a combination of big business and the Higher Education sector, suggest various reasons for why it is imperative that students be removed from the net migration target, all of which are deeply misleading, not to say dishonest.
1. The number of overseas students has fallen for the first time in 29 years.
It is implicit that this has been a consequence of immigration policy. Yet this fall was entirely accounted for by EU students, which fell by a quarter in 2012-13, as a result of the introduction of tuition fees of £9,000 per year while non-EU students increased by 2% on the year previous. In fact, the number of non-EU visa applications for University has increased by 17% since the present government took power, demonstrating that immigration controls have not harmed the University sector.
2. Only one in five students remain in the UK after their studies have ended.
This is a claim that is entirely without any supporting evidence. A Home Office study ‘The Migrant Journey’ found that only one in five students had the legal right to remain in the UK after five years, the visas of the remaining 80% had expired. However, this does not mean that they have left. Until 2012 there was no way of knowing how many students remained in the UK. We now have two years’ worth of data from a revised International Passenger Survey which suggests that only 50,000 non-EU migrants who arrived as students are leaving per year, this is just one third of average inflow over the previous five years. It indicates very clearly that significant numbers of students are staying on in the UK either legally or otherwise.
3. They urge the government to do “as our competitors do” and remove students from the net migration target.
In fact, all our competitor countries include students in net migration. Indeed, the recent fall in net migration to Australia is largely due to a fall in student arrivals and an increase in student departures (See p. 10 of here for more). A migrant is a term defined by the United Nations, not national governments. It refers to people that cross a border to live for more than 12 months. The reason for migration is irrelevant. Nowadays. students are counted both in and out – so students who return home make no contribution to net migration.
These considerations no doubt explain why the government have repeatedly rejected similar suggestions from a variety of equally misinformed Parliamentary Committees. 
 HEFCE, Global Demand for English Higher Education. April 2014, URL: http://www.hefce.ac.uk/media/hefce/content/heinengland/HEFCE2014_08a.pdf
 Home Office, Visa Statistics.
 Letter from the Prime Minister David Cameron to Adrian Bailey MP, Chair of House of Commons Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills, March 2013, URL: http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/business-innovation-and-skills/Reply-from-the-PM-20130308.pdf