The Home Secretary has sparked the latest row to hit the Tory party, after comments about international students prompted a rebuke from former universities minister Jo Johnson.
Suella Braverman appears to have international student numbers in her sights, as she used several media and Conservative Party conference appearances to suggest that the scale of foreign students coming to the UK to study was too high.
In an interview with The Sun newspaper over the weekend, the Home Secretary said: “We’ve also got a very high number of students coming into this country and we’ve got a really high number of dependents.
“So students are coming on their student visa, but they’re bringing in family members who can piggyback onto their student visa.
“Those people are coming here, they’re not necessarily working or they’re working in low-skilled jobs, and they’re not contributing to growing our economy.”
She doubled down on the comments at the party’s conference in Birmingham, telling the Chopper’s Politics podcast that her “ultimate aspiration” would be to get net migration down into the tens of thousands while refusing to set a target for the next election.
She explained how she wanted to target student and work visas, and the dependents they can bring with them, adding: “I think we have too many students coming into this country who are propping up, frankly, substandard courses in inadequate institutions.”
The comments drew the ire of Lord Johnson, a peer and the brother of the former prime minister, who called the remarks “disappointing”.
He warned that they “bode ill for her period as Home Secretary if this is going to be her approach to, frankly, one of the most promising export industries that the UK has”.
“Our higher education sector is one of very few globally competitive industries that we have as a country,” he told Times Radio.
“If we want to be a science superpower, which is one of the Government’s objectives, you can kiss goodbye to that completely if we don’t have international students.”
He also hit out at comments by education minister Andrea Jenkyns about so-called “Harry Potter degrees”.
The minister for skills, further and higher education told a fringe event at the conference that a “skilled modern economy” required technical skills as much as it needed graduates, and criticised the “current system” for favouring degrees in “Harry Potter studies”.
“It’s a bit of an old cliche. It used to be that ‘Mickey Mouse studies’ was the favourite sort of target for attack and now it’s become Harry Potter studies. The reality is, these courses are few and far between relative to the numbers of really valuable courses that our higher education system is providing,” Mr Johnson said.
“Our universities are a really great national asset for the UK and this relentless uni-bashing is a bit wearisome, so I would urge ministers to go easy on the sort of relentless negativity about a sector which is really one of our great strengths as a country.”