Owen Meredith: Tories need more than rhetoric if we really want a ‘global Britain’
As the new immigration minister, Caroline Nokes should take action to attract international students.
This week we’ve heard from the Foreign Secretary about the importance of building an outward-looking, confident UK as we leave the EU. Boris Johnson sought to bridge the political divide and bring both remain and leave voters into the discussion about shaping our nation’s future. To put those words into action, it is critical that the whole conservative family come together to step up and help shape our country’s future direction.
To make a success of Brexit, the UK must continue to remain an attractive offer for the outside world and nowhere is that more important than when it comes to attracting international students. The UK has four of the top ten universities in the world, and a British education is a globally sought-after commodity. Our educational offering is second to none and many students rightly want to study in the UK to get the British Cultural experience and enjoy the our exciting, vibrant and tolerant society which many experience before they return home
The economic benefits of attracting international students are blindingly obvious. Recent research from the Higher Education Policy Institute and Kaplan International Pathways revealed that almost every part of the country benefits economically from overseas students by as much as £20 billion a year. A great British education is a Great British export.
Despite this, and reportedly despite pleas from the Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor, international students remain included in the UK migration numbers.
It is perverse when rebooting global Britain to slap a quota on such a fine, healthy and growing export. This insistence that students are included in the migration figures not only plays to a toxic narrative on immigration which belongs in the past but also goes against the principles of Global Britain. A truly Global Britain will only be possible if we ensure this country is open for trade, for business and, perhaps most importantly, open for the younger generation.
Some would argue it is our relationship with the younger generation that has suffered the most in recent years. Not only did many of them feel betrayed by the Brexit vote but many more turned their back on the brand of Conservatism offered to them last June in the election and instead opted for the empty and costly promises of Corbyn’s Labour.
As a party we have an opportunity in delivering a successful Brexit deal to reset that narrative. If, however, we choose to pursue a different path, we risk allowing others to paint a picture of a Conservative Party stuck in the past, obsessed with immigration and a bygone era. This image would be an unfair portal of the modern Conservative Party, but politics – like life – isn’t always fair. We have the power to change that narrative and continue the progress the party made under David Cameron with his brand of compassionate conservativism which resonated with voters in 2010 and 2015.
I had the privilege of contesting the university seat of Newcastle-under-Lyme last June and was reminded of the positive impact Keele students had not only on the local economy but also in their contributions to the wider community. As a Keele alumnus, I’m proud that my university has a long tradition of bringing international students to a former mining community in North Staffordshire, bringing with them investment, regeneration and jobs for local people.
In my time at Keele, it was that compassionate Conservative message that resonated with students and helped us build one of the largest student Conservative branches in the country. As chairman of the Tory Reform Group, the largest membership group within the Conservative party, that is why we are dedicating time and resources to build up our student wing and why I’m proud to count among our members a record and growing number of students, and increasing presence across University campuses crisscrossing the country from Cardiff to Hull, London to Edinburgh.
So in welcoming Caroline Nokes, the new Immigration Minister, to her post, our message is clear – we need the rhetoric of Global Britain to be matched with actions from her and Number 10. An open, tolerant and successful forward-thinking country is dependent on us playing to our strengths and traditions. The removal of international students from Britain’s net migration figures is an important and symbolic step to achieving this.
British values, a liberal education and an overarching respect of society are just some of the virtues our education system offers young people around the world. There is no better indicator of how we are viewed globally, and the reach of our soft power, than by the thousands of students who continue their careers around the world as ambassadors of a truly Global Britain.
Owen Meredith is national chairman of the Tory Reform Group.
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