Student visas continue to be a battleground between business interests and the governments stance on overall immigration. There is no question that foreign students make a positive contribution to the UK - currently it is estimated they add £8 billion a year to the UK economy. Based on previous growth rates this was expected to double by 2025.
However changes to the visa scheme and hardline statements from British politicians are scaring off students from the key markets of India, China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. In 2012 there was almost no growth in student visa applications which is a worrisome sign. The government is thrilled with this outcome, despite the financial consequences.
This is another short sighted action by the UK government. Students pay to study in the UK which brings in revenue, they also provide a temporary workforce during their studies which helps economic growth and most importantly they maintain ties with the UK after they complete their studies. This is achieved both through employer sponsorship which allows the best and brightest to stay in the UK and also thorugh graduates who maintain links to the UK even when they leave. These long term ties lead to greater economic and social opportunities for the UK for many years to come.
Yet by using students as an easy target to hit the ridiculous net migration target of less than 100 000 people by 2015, the government is alienating some of the best and brightest in the developing world. This has lead to some UK universities setting up campuses in Asia - but the real risk to the UK is students will choose to go to the long list of countries whose governments and universities are more welcoming.