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Willetts slams May over 96,000 foreign students claim

Home Secretary Theresa May has been criticised by a former colleague for using "unreliable" statistics to call for tougher restrictions on foreign students coming to Britain to study.

David Willetts and Theressa May Credit: Tim Goode/EMPICS Entertainment/John Stillwell/PA Wire/Press Association Images

Ex-universities minister David Willetts took exception to Mrs May's claim that 96,000 more students were arriving in the country each year than were leaving.

In an article for the Sunday Times, Mrs May wrote: "The gap between the number of non-EU students coming to this country and departing each year is 96,000 - half the net migration from beyond the EU."

But Mr Willetts - who left government last year and is soon to join the House of Lords - said the figure was "not a solid basis for policy".

People who come here to study should study, perhaps do some post study work and then go back to their country...We are selling them a service, we reap a lot of benefits from that, but studying in Britain is not and should not be a means to settlement. My disagreement I'm afraid is that the particular figures that were being cited ... for number of students staying on is very unreliable. It is a widely disputed and doubted figure and would not be a solid basis for policy.

– David Willetts