Newly-appointed universities and science minister Jo Johnson has made it his “personal aim” to address a drop in Indian students arriving to the UK to study at British universities.
Johnson, based in New Delhi between 2005 and 2008 as the Financial Times South Asia Bureau chief, expressed his concern at students from the country being made to feel unwelcome.
“I am concerned that some feel the UK does not welcome students as warmly as we once did and that there has been a decline of student numbers from some of our key partners, most notably India.
“It is a personal aim of mine to overcome misconceptions about the UK in such important countries,” he said, during his first speech at the Going Global 2015 Conference, on for international education leaders in London.
“Today’s international students are tomorrow’s world leaders. They take friendships and loyalties home with them that later become trade links, cultural bonds and diplomatic ties,” he said.
The number of Indian students coming to the UK fell from 18,535 in 2010-11 to 10,235 in 2012-13, according to a report by the Higher Education Funding Council for England.
Universities have previously warned that negative impacts from the Conservative government’s drive to reduce net migration is harming their recruitment of international students, calling for students to be removed from net migration figures.
In a recent interview, Tooting Labour MP Sadiq Khan, who is running for London mayor, said it was a “total disgrace” that the government’s immigration cap limited the number of Indian students studying at British universities.
The younger brother of London mayor Boris Johnson added: “The UK, of course, values international students who come to this country. We recognise that competition for the brightest and best students from other countries is intensifying.
“We will continue to ensure our excellent education system remains a magnet for brilliant minds.”
The minister and MP for Orpington in Kent also said that non-EU students from countries like India “stimulate demand for courses where domestic demand alone can be insufficient to sustain them. They help us maintain our first-class STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] provision”.
Asked if the Conservative government would reintroduce post-study work visas or remove students from net migration targets, the father of two, who was previously the head of the David Cameron’s policy unit, said: “We have a system which has been in place for a number of years and is now bedding down in terms of how post-study work works, and the whole structure of our offer. It is a strong offer.”
The removal of post-study work visas, which allowed students to work for two years after finishing their course, has been seen as one of the major drawbacks for Indian students, who are now choosing destinations like the US and Australia over the UK.