Universities UK has welcomed a letter from business leaders, published in today's Financial Times, highlighting the benefits to the UK of attracting and holding on to skilled international graduates. The open letter – signed by senior business figures including Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of media and advertising giant WPP and Simon Collins, UK chairman of accountancy firm KPMG – calls for international students not to be included in government efforts to bear down on immigration and also recommends increasing opportunities for qualified international graduates to remain in the UK, for some time at least, once they complete their studies. The letter (and full list of signatories) is copied further below. Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said: “We agree that, if the UK is to remain internationally competitive, it should be looking to broaden, not limit, efforts to attract qualified international students and graduates. “Competitor countries are increasingly introducing a range of strategies to attract overseas students and graduates, recognising the value to their economies and countries. “Short-term post-study work opportunities for skilled international graduates are important in helping to fill specific skills gaps and ensuring that UK businesses and other organisations remain globally competitive. The option of time-limited post-study work is also a valuable incentive to prospective students to choose to study in the UK, even if many do not take it up. “As we approach a general election, Universities UK will continue to campaign to ensure that we attract qualified international students and staff to the UK. This includes looking to broaden the opportunities for qualified international graduates to stay in the UK to work for a period and contribute to the economy.”
Sir, The public supports an immigration system that welcomes individuals who make a contribution while they are in the UK. It is unsurprising, therefore, that the majority of people look favourably on the 310,000 or so university students who come here from outside the EU. Indeed, according to an ICM poll, 75 per cent think that international students should be allowed to stay and work in the UK after graduating from our universities, applying their skills and ideas. We think that the continued contribution of these skills and ideas to businesses, both large and small, is absolutely vital to the future prosperity of the UK. Many of the world’s brightest minds and entrepreneurs have studied at our universities in recent years — for example, the third of Nobel laureates since 2000 working in UK universities who were born overseas. We do not want to lose these talented people to our competitor economies as a result of ill-thought-out immigration policies. Whoever is in government after May 2015 must consider removing university international students from any net migration target, as well as increase opportunities for qualified international graduates to remain in the UK, for some time at least, once they complete their studies.