India urges Theresa May to open UK doors to university students

India’s prime minister has hinted to Theresa May that Britain needs to open up its universities to more of its students.

At a conference only hours after the British PM arrived in Delhi on a trade mission aimed at boosting economic ties, Narendra Modi appeared to tackle one of India’s biggest demands of the UK.

Addressing a UK-India tech summit he said: “Education is vital for our students and will define our engagement in a shared future. We must therefore encourage greater mobility and participation of young people in education and research opportunities.”

The comments were seen as underlining the importance that Indians place on the ability of their students and highly skilled professionals to move across the world.

Earlier May had reduced Indian hopes for a more liberal visa system, under which more of its nationals wanting to work in the UK could do so, by arguing that the current offer was generous enough.

Speaking on the way to Delhi for her first bilateral meeting outside Europe, the prime minister argued Britain was already able to attract the “brightest and best” from outside the EU.

“The figures show that we issue more work visas to India than I think US, Australia and China put together. Nine out of 10 visa applications from India are already accepted. We have, I believe, a good system,” she said.

The comments could prove disappointing for some in the Indian government and business community who have argued for increased numbers, and the move could be key for any future trade deals.

May used her speech to the tech summit to insist she wanted an open relationship with India, laying out plans for India to become the first visa country to be put on a registered traveller scheme which helps speed up the experience of visitors in British airports.

“That means for Indian nationals who frequently come to the UK – and who fuel growth in both our countries – the entry process will become significantly easier. Fewer forms to fill out, access to EU/EEA passport control, swifter passage through our airports,” she said.

Despite the reluctance to increase migration numbers from India to the UK, the prime minister delivered a passionate argument for free trade between the two countries arguing that it “creates a rising tide that lifts all boats”.

She said Britain was determined not to turn its back on the world, adding: “Because we know from history what happens when countries do not embrace the opportunities of the world. They stagnate, they get poorer, they don’t protect their people, they make them worse off.”

Adding that while countries like India did not owe Britain a living, she said working together meant the greatest chance of success.

May also said she did not need to wait to leave the EU to start discussions on how trade and investment could be boosted between the countries.

She began the speech by insisting that India and the UK had a special link, listening “to each other’s music” and eating each other’s food, as well as sharing a love of cricket.


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