London: The UK government seemed rattled by the India visit of French President Emmanuel Macron with UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson clashing with him on social media over Indian students being lured by both nations.
During an address in New Delhi on Saturday, the French President offered up France as the new gateway to Europe for Indian students against the backdrop of Britain’s exit from the EU.
“We are at the beginning of a new momentum between France and India… I want to double the number of Indian students coming to France. If you choose France you gain access to francophonie, you gain access to Europe,” said messages from Macron’s official Twitter account.
In a direct reply, Johnson tweeted back: “We are proud too to have more than 14,000 Indian students coming to the UK in 2017 – up a quarter over last year – choosing the home of the greatest universities, including four of the global top ten.”
He concluded his message with the tag #EducationIsGreatInEnglish.
The social media clash reflects the UK’s obvious attempt to hold on to its attraction for international students post-Brexit.
According to official estimates, overseas students contribute around 25 billion pounds a year to the UK economy and support about 200,000 jobs in the country.
The number of Indian students choosing British universities has been on the decline in recent years due to a perceived unwelcome visa regime, though last year’s figures came as some relief for the UK government.
The number of study visas granted to Indians in 2017 amounted to 14,445, the second-largest after the Chinese. The figure marked a 28 per cent hike in student visas granted to Indians compared to the previous year.
There are growing calls from universities for overseas students to be removed from the government’s annual migration target for them to be able to attract larger numbers of what they believe are essentially temporary migrants who have a lot to offer the economy.
“The treating of students as immigrants leads to negative perceptions in India of the UK’s restrictive visa regime. There is no justification for seeking to reduce numbers of international students,” said Lord Karan Bilimoria, Indian-origin entrepreneur and president of the UK Council for International Student Affairs.
Macron, meanwhile, has been making a direct play for these temporary migrants along with clinching deals worth an estimated 13-billion euros between French and Indian companies during his India tour.
He has been touting France as the “entry point to Europe” in a direct challenge to Britain, which until Brexit had pegged itself as the gateway to Europe for Indian companies.