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MPs warn of 'flawed' migration data

The UK's £40 billion education sector could be crippled by the Government's proposals to tighten restrictions on student visas, a report has suggested.

Both the UK's reputation and the international student market could suffer if plans to reduce the number of non-EU migrants coming to study in the UK have unintended consequences, MPs have said.

The proposals are based on data that "are not fit for purpose and could inhibit effective policy making", they said.

The Commons Home Affairs Select Committee said a new system should be brought in as a priority. Government plans to end the links between study and work should also be scrapped, it said.

Keith Vaz, the committee's chairman, said: "Generating policy based on flawed evidence could cripple the UK education sector. In the case of international students this could mean a significant revenue and reputational loss to the UK.

"We strongly urge the Government to examine the data which it currently uses to extrapolate migration figures and recognise that for any genuine student the doors to Britain's fine education institutions are always open. If the door is shut they will simply study elsewhere."

He went on: "Students are not migrants. They come from all over the world to study here, contributing to the economy both through payment of fees and wider spending. Whilst we are right to seek to eliminate bogus colleges and bogus students, we need to ensure that we continue to attract the brightest and the best."

Shadow universities minister Gareth Thomas said universities were "hugely worried about the financial implications of a big drop in overseas student numbers" which would help to drive up tuition fees for home students.

But immigration minister Damian Green said: "This Government recognises the important contribution that international students make to the UK economy, but the old student visa regime neither controlled immigration nor protected legitimate students from being exploited by poor quality colleges.

"We want to refocus the student visa system as a temporary route and one that is not open to abuse."

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