Figures released on Thursday showed that net migration to the UK rose to 504,000 in the year to June, driven partly by a post-Covid surge in overseas students coming to Britain.
The figures pose a challenge for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak who says he is committed to reducing net migration and this week rejected calls from business leaders to relax visa rules to help boost Britain’s flagging economy.
They also undermine pledges from Brexit supporting Conservatives that leaving the EU would bring back control of the UK’s borders by and reduce immigration by ending freedom of movement within the EU.
The Office for National Statistics said 476,389 foreign students were granted visas to come to the UK in the year to June, up 77 per cent on 2019 with those studying post graduate courses able to bring family members.
Reducing the number of students who can bring dependants or restricting visas to those students attending “elite” universities have been floated as possible ways of reducing the levels of foreign students.
But Professor Brian Bell, chair of the independent MAC, said many universities were reliant on the income from overseas students fees to cross subsidise domestic students, whose fees for undergraduates are capped at £9,250 a year.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Most universities for most courses lose money on teaching British students and offset that loss by charging more for international students. If you close the international route I’m not sure how the university continues to survive.
“Because of that cross subsidisation that we get from international students, it could send many universities over the edge.”