Email raises ques­tions over au­ton­omy of UK mi­gra­tion com­mit­tee re­port

Email from se­nior civil ser­vant about MAC re­port sparks con­cerns. John Mor­gan writes

THE (Times Higher Education) - - CONTENTS - John.mor­[email protected]­ere­d­u­ca­tion.com`

A se­nior Home Of­fice civil ser­vant said that an in­de­pen­dent re­port on in­ter­na­tional stu­dents in the UK “looks good” weeks be­fore it was pub­lished with con­clu­sions that backed the de­part­ment on key im­mi­gra­tion is­sues.

The email cor­re­spon­dence, ob­tained by Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion un­der the Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act, “sadly sug­gests there may be no such thing as an in­de­pen­dent Home Of­fice re­view”, said Nick Hill­man, direc­tor of the Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Pol­icy In­sti­tute.

The Mi­gra­tion Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee, made up of six aca­demic economists plus a civil ser­vant in an ex of­fi­cio ca­pac­ity, is de­scribed by the Home Of­fice as an in­de­pen­dent body.

Its re­port on in­ter­na­tional stu­dents was com­mis­sioned by Am­ber Rudd in her time as home sec­re­tary and was seen by many as an at­tempt to lib­er­alise the visa regime for nonEuro­pean Union stu­dents. But she was forced to step down in April and was re­placed by Sa­jid Javid.

When the MAC re­port was pub­lished on 11 Sep­tem­ber, it dashed sec­tor ex­pec­ta­tions by re­ject­ing calls to rein­tro­duce post-study work visas and to re­move stu­dents from the net mi­gra­tion tar­get – a stance in line with that of the prime min­is­ter, Theresa May, and the Home Of­fice.

THE asked the Home Of­fice to re­lease all cor­re­spon­dence sent by se­nior civil ser­vants or min­is­ters to Alan Man­ning, the Lon­don School of Eco­nomics pro­fes­sor who chairs the MAC.

Jen­nifer Bradley, a se­nior Home Of­fice civil ser­vant who is head of the MAC sec­re­tariat, emailed Pro­fes­sor Man­ning on 22 Au­gust and said of the in­ter­na­tional stu­dents re­port: “QA [pre­sum­ably qual­ity as­sur­ance] is nearly fin­ished and the re­port looks good – all com­ments in­cor­po­rated from mem­bers and just a cou­ple of ques­tions for you to clear up.”

Ms Bradley also said: “I’m con­tin­u­ing to have var­i­ous meet­ings with of­fi­cials from HMT [the Trea­sury], No 10 etc keen to know the re­port rec­om­men­da­tions which I’m speak­ing to them at a high level about.”

An­other MAC re­port, on postBrexit im­mi­gra­tion rules for na­tion­als of Euro­pean Eco­nomic Area coun­tries, was also be­ing pre­pared at the time, and it is not clear from the email – which is heav­ily redacted – whether this sec­ond state­ment refers to this or the in­ter­na­tional stu­dents pa­per.

The Home Of­fice’s FoI re­sponse said that “whilst Jen­nifer Bradley is a Home Of­fice [se­nior civil ser­vant], the emails were sent in her ca­pac­ity as head of the Mi­gra­tion Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee sec­re­tariat”.

THE pre­vi­ously re­ported that the MAC re­lied on grad­u­ate earn­ings data for non-EU mas­ter’s stu­dents to jus­tify re­ject­ing the rein­tro­duc­tion of post-study work visas, seem­ing to ig­nore the un­der­grad­u­ate data cited by the re­port, which show non-EU grad­u­ates gain­ing higher earn­ings than UK grad­u­ates.

Mr Hill­man, an ad­viser to Lord Wil­letts dur­ing his ten­ure as uni­ver­si­ties min­is­ter, said that “from mem- ory” of that time in gov­ern­ment, “we saw the [in­de­pen­dent] Browne re­port [on univer­sity fund­ing and stu­dent fi­nance] the week­end be­fore it was pub­lished and when it was too late to make any amend­ments even if we had wanted to. That is how such pro­cesses should work.”

He added: “We…all need to be­come smarter at ask­ing, ‘When is an in­de­pen­dent re­view not an in­de­pen­dent re­view?’ It is like the start of a bad joke, which is of course ex­actly what the MAC re­port was.” THE has seen no ev­i­dence of amend­ments be­ing made to the MAC re­port at the re­quest of gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials or politi­cians.

A spokesman for the MAC said: “The com­mit­tee is sup­ported by a sec­re­tariat com­prised of Home Of­fice civil ser­vants, who are sec­onded to the MAC and are op­er­a­tionally in­de­pen­dent from the de­part­ment. This sys­tem is com­monly used through­out gov­ern­ment.

“The Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion re­sponse con­tains no com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween Home Of­fice civil ser­vants who re­port to min­is­ters and the chair of the MAC.”

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In agree­ment the MAC re­port backed the Home Of­fice on key im­mi­gra­tion is­sues

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