Set up by the House of Lords, the ‘Science and Technology Committee’ has one simple, broad-brushed aim: “to consider science and technology”.
Made up of some renowned scientific minds, they are, in many ways, the guardians of science in this country. They want to ensure that Britain is able to compete in an increasingly globalised economy and that provisions are in place to ensure that we have the science, technology, engineering and mathematical base to compete now and in the future – to win the global race to the top. They’re also the perfect group to objectively assess the Tory-led government’s approach towards international students – a topic that both myself, Chuka Umunna and Yvette Cooper have spoken a lot about in recent weeks.
In short, they felt that ‘elements of [government] policy and perception are working against’ the aim to bolster the number of international students, and questioned the decision of the government to include students in the net migration target – a move which, as Yvette Cooper announced yesterday, would be reversed under a Labour Government.
The Committee’s criticisms of government were two-fold. Firstly, there was the perception problem. They cited ‘overblown’ rhetoric from Ministers and their lack of understanding on the reach of new media, such as Twitter and Facebook, as sending a negative message to international students. Indeed, I’ve seen this first hand on a recent trip to India (where applications from STEM students are down a staggering 38%) and it’s backed up by NUS research, which suggests that 51% of non-EU students believe the UK Government is either ‘not welcoming’ or ‘not at all welcoming’ towards international students.
Secondly, the inconsistency in the Government’s vision for the country was heavily criticised. The report rightly identified the conflict between the Government’s commitment to reduce net migration and to attract increasing number of international students (15-20% over the next five years). The only way around to fully overcome this, the report suggested, was to remove students from the net migration target. David Cameron and his government have, so far, refused to do so.
People have legitimate concerns about the impact of low-skilled immigration and Labour is clear that we need a system that works for all by tackling exploitation to stop people being undercut. But the government’s stance on legitimate overseas students – who contribute to our economy, our culture and our education - is doing real damage.
It seems that only a Labour government is willing to put a halt to that.