Fact: The population of the UK rose by 3.737 million people between 1990 and 2007.
Fact: Total net migration to the UK between 1990 and 2007 was 2.097 million, 56% of the total increase in population. Of that figure, 1.859 million stems from the period from 1997-2007.
Fact: Between 1997 and 2007, 1.292 million people were granted the right to settle in the UK.
Fact: Between 1997 and 2007, 1.646 million former migrants became British Citizens.
Fact: Net immigration rose significantly under New Labour. There is no denying that fact.
For some people those figures, alone, are sufficient reason to put up the shutters and declare that Britain is full, even if they barely scratch the surface when it comes to telling the real story of immigration over the last 12-18 years.
For example, although total net migration amounts to 1.859 million between 1997 and 2007, the number of people currently living in the UK with full settlement rights has risen by only 480,000.
Britain is a net exporter of its own citizens, 811,000 in the period from 1997-2007 on top of the 297,000 (net) who left the UK between 1991 and 1996. So somewhere in the world right now, possibly Spain, someone is sitting down to read today’s copy of the Daily-o Mail-o and complaining bitterly to themselves about all the bloody Brits who’ve been going over there to take their jobs.
Migration is not a zero sum game. The net increase in Britain’s migrant population stems from population movements involving 12.454 million people between 1991 and 2007 (9.076 million since 1997) into and out of the UK. Of the 4.586 million foreign nationals who entered the UK between 1997 and 2007, 1.838 million had moved on by the end of 2007 and a further 1.51 million were still here only on a temporary basis, including 454,000 whose immigration status remains uncertain as they await a ruling on an asylum application. Of those pending applications, the data suggests that a quarter may be granted the right to settle or extended leave to remain in the UK, although it may be less than that as the UK tightens its approach to dealing to asylum seekers and most may eventually have to leave.
Once you drill down into the data, past the few scraps of information that make the tabloid headlines, the picture becomes ever more complex. It’s that picture we are endeavouring to present.
Why do migrants come to the UK?
To make any sense of the patterns of net migration to the UK since 1991 its important to understand why so many people come to the UK. The main reason are covered by the two graphs below, the first showing total inward migration for the periods 1991-1996, 1997-2002 and 2003-2007, the second the net migration over those same time periods.
What interesting here, to begin with, is that the figures for inward migration are so different for the periods from 1991-1996, under a Conservative government, as they are for the periods 1997-2002 and 2003-2007, under New Labour. Inward migration has gone up under New Labour, certainly, but it was still relatively high under the last Conservative government, when 1.8 million people entered the UK over a six year period as migrants.
Where things differ markedly is when we come to look at the figures for net migration, which show, amongst other thing, that Britain moved from being a net exporter of labour under the Tories to a net importer under New Labour. Well, there was a recession in the early 1990s followed by a fairly unprecedented period of sustained economic growth, so that’s only really what you’d expect.
What may surprise people, however, is what the second graph has to tell us about the nature of the single biggest source of net migration to the UK over this entire period, because its not asylum seekers or migrant workers, as many may well believe if they rely on the tabloids for their information. It’s not even family formation, foreign nationals entering the UK as spouses or dependants; although on that score Britain has been a much more hospitable place under New Labour than it ever as under the Tories.
No, the single biggest source of net migration to the UK since 1991 is students, people entering the UK to undertake a course of formal study, a total of 1.34 million since 1991, 1.15 million of which occurred under New Labour.
These are the migrants you’ll rarely, if ever, hear about in the Daily Mail.
Migration and Education
We can easily see why students make up by far the largest number of net migrants to the UK over this period (60% since 1991, 56% since 1997) from this graph, which looks at the growth in student numbers in perhaps the most important education sector (fiscally speaking), higher education.
Overall, the numbers entering Britain’s universities have risen significantly since 1997 (sadly, there’s no readily available data for 1991-1996); by around 25% in the case of both UK and EU students, give or take dip in the latter between 2002 and 2004 but by 118% in the case of students from outside the EU (the graph shows index numbers with 1997=100).
The number of non-EU overseas students studying for degree-level at British universities more than doubled over the period from 1997 to 2007, and particularly from 2000 onwards, when the rate of growth really began to accelerate to the point where, by 2007, overseas students make up 1 in 7 of all students in Higher Education in the UK (239,000 rising to 351,000 in total when you include those from the EU).
With the exception of a relatively small number of overseas students studying here on UK scholarship, these are fee-paying students around half of which are studying for post-graduate qualifications. For a student from the EU, annual fees vary from £3,225 for an undergraduate degree at a University in England to anything up to £14,000 a year for a postgraduate degree, while a non-EU can expect pay anything from £5,655 to £20,400 a year for an undergraduate degree, depending on institution and course, while annual fees for a postgraduate weigh in at between £7,300 and £31,500. Typically, universities in London, Oxford, Cambridge and the ‘red brick’ and specialist universities charge the highest fees, with science, medicine/veterinary medicine and business courses tending to the most expensive overall.
Overall, overseas students will put an estimated£2.83 billion in tuition fees into the UK’s Higher Education sector in 2009/10, around a third of the sector’s revenues from that particular source. Overseas students not only pay their way but they contribute more than double their share of tuition fee revenues relative to their actual numbers, effectively subsidising the education provide to British students to the tune of around £1.5 billion a year.
Over the last 12 years, the ten subject areas attracting the greatest percentage growth in overseas students are shown in this graph.
Interestingly, when looking at the detailed course data it is apparent that EU students studying the UK are twice as likely to opt for courses in business and administration or engineering and technology than their UK counterparts, while non-EU students are three times more likely to study one of those two fields. British students are, however, much more likely to study for a degree in education or in the biological sciences than their non-EU counterparts, the former saying much about the role of government’s funded financial incentives for would-be teachers, the latter possibly an oblique commentary on attitudes to evolution elsewhere in the world.
Looking beyond higher education, figures provided by the British Council, which promotes British education overseas, indicate that there are currently over 21,000 overseas students who parents live outside the UK studying in the UK at fee-paying schools in the independent sector. 32% of these come from China and Hong Kong, with a further 14% from Germany and 10% from the rest of Europe (excluding France and Spain). The average fee, per term, at an independent boarding school in the UK is currently £7,747, giving an estimated annual income for the independent schools sector of £496 million a year.
As for further education, figures also provided by the British Council show that there were around 76,000 overseas students studying at publically funded FE colleges in the UK in 2007/8, a fall of 6,000 from 2002/3, with the number of non-EU students falling from 61,000 to 36,000 as many of them move on to British universities. These figures do not include overseas students studying in the UK at private FE colleges and ‘feeder’ colleges for the top universities, for which no reliable data is available.
A study (pdf) published by the British Council in 2007 estimated the total export value of education to the British economy in 2003/4 at £27.71 billion, including revenues from private sector training, consultancy and educational-related goods and services, of which £8.6 billion was derived from educating foreign students in the UK and overseas via distance learning programmes, both of which are classed as exports. It also estimated that for every £1 of revenue from tuition fees paid by overseas students, the education sector receives a further £1.25 in additional education spending, putting the estimated value of overseas students to the British economy this year at £6.36 billion.
You might that an industry putting up numbers at that scale would be left to carry on with business as usual, especially during an economic recession, even if it means further increases in net migration but you’d be wrong.
A little over a month ago, The Guardian reported that ‘thousands of university places could be left unfilled and institutions millions of pounds out of pocket, because high fee-paying international students are being blocked from starting degrees under a new visa system’. It reported that as many as 14,000 students from Pakistan, alone, were likely to be unable to begin their courses on time due to a backlog in processing visa applications, forcing universities to video lectures in order permit students to begin their studies while still waiting to enter the UK.
The Guardian article also put the figure for income from tuition fees from foreign students at around £4 billion based on figures from UKCISA, higher than my own estimate but maybe more accurate as its based on exact figures for numbers of student per course and an institution where my estimates are extrapolated from averages and are likely, therefore, to be conservative.
Fears of Islamic extremists entering the UK from Pakistan have obviously played a role in creating this situation but that appears to offer little comfort to the Vice-Chancellors of British Universities who are fearful that delays caused by the UK Borders Agency could badly affect student numbers and damage the reputation of the UK Higher Education sector overseas, particularly in the Indian sub-continent, which is one of the sector’s most important markets.
What happens to migrants when they finish their education?
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to say.
There are major shortcomings in the available data on migration, none more so than the disconnection between the data on inflows and outflows/outcomes. We know how many migrants have entered the UK to further their education in recent years and we know that there’s a sizeable discrepancy between that figure (1.34 million net from 1991, 1.6 million in total) and the number we know to be in education in the UK at the present time; 456,0oo plus an unknown number in private FE colleges, feeder colleges or in private education.
Many, and exactly how many is uncertain, will still be living and working in the UK, some legally and some not, having overstayed. Some will have settled permanently in the UK having married a British citizen or the right to settle after being in continuous employment in the UK for more than five years – and some of these may, by now, be British citizens themselves.
Some will have settled here having applied for and received asylum. Others will undoubtedly still be stuck in the asylum system either waiting for decision or appealing a decision to turn down their application.
Some will have moved on to continue their education elsewhere in world and some will be among 1.5 million who’ve left the UK for a job elsewhere in the world or the 910,000 who’ve chanced their armleft to seek work without a definite job to go to.
And some will have, of course, returned to their homeland taking the skills and knowledge gained in the UK with them.
What we can say, in regards to those who are still living in the UK, whether continuing their studies, or working and/or having settled into family life in this country is that with government projections suggesting that there may be only 900,000 unskilled jobs in the UK economy by 2o20 and 20.7% of the adult population lacking the degree of literacy necessary to work out the correct amount of medicine to give a child from the label on the packet, any government with designs on the UK making its way in the the world as a high-tech knowledge will be relying heavily on the UK’s higher education system to continue to draw in, and retain, the brightest and best that the world has to offer.
That’s an immigration story you’re unlikely to read in the tabloids.
The introduction to this series is posted here.
· About the author: 'Unity' is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He also blogs at Ministry of Truth.
Click on the graphs for greater clarity, or visit the Liberal Conspiracy site.