Members of the UK Parliament express alarm as the Home Secretary announces plans to close the door on up to 120,000 international students from outside the EU, the Guardian reports
A cross-party group of MPs, including Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, are to voice their “profound concerns” to the UK Home Secretary, Theresa May, over her plans to bar tens of thousands of overseas students from outside the European Union coming to study in Britain.
The plans outlined this week include restricting overseas student visas to those on degree-level courses and are expected to lead to the closure of some English-language schools and other privately-run colleges.
The package means that the government will close the door on up to 120,000 international students from outside the EU who come to Britain to take “below-degree” level courses – about 40% of the annual total.
The Home Office student visa consultation paper being published today forms a key part of the Conservatives’ drive to reduce overall net migration from 215,000 in 2009 to “tens of thousands” by the time of the next general election.
MPs representing traditional English-language school centres such as Brighton, Eastbourne and Malvern have joined those from more recent centres such as Sheffield in voicing their “profound concerns” to the home secretary over the moves.
It has been estimated that overseas students contribute £100m annually to the local economy in Brighton alone.
Tony Milns of English UK, which represents 440 English-language colleges or schools, warned that some were likely to close: “A lot of MPs with language colleges or schools in their constituencies are concerned. They realise the economic and other benefits to their constituents of having foreign students spending money.”
The publication of this week’s consultation paper was postponed a fortnight ago after a government Minister, the Business Secretary Vince Cable, was inadvertently photographed holding a briefing paper warning against making the UK less attractive to overseas students.
Ministers say that their proposals will ensure that legitimate and high-quality universities will be protected from the rise in overseas student numbers and the consequent key income flow from their higher fees. They also plan to exempt those colleges who qualify for “highly trusted sponsor status”.
The package of measures will include a new English-language test for prospective students; an academic progress test for those applying to extend their study stay in Britain; and a further reduction in the 10-hour limit (which was previously 20 hours) that an overseas student on a “below-degree” level course can work. There is also likely to be a curb on the number of dependents they can bring with them.
In what could prove disastrous for universities competing for students against the likes of Australia and Canada, further ‘nail in the coffin’ restrictions are expected on the 38,000 overseas students who graduate in Britain and are then allowed to stay on to work after their studies under the Tier 1 post study visa.
The newly emphasised ‘drive to ensure students return overseas after their course finishes’ will mean students may be required to leave the UK and apply for a new visa to further their studies, as well as demonstrate evidence of progression to a higher level course.
The government also announced plans to improve the inspection and accreditation of the education sector, to ‘ensure the courses offered by private institutions are of the highest quality’.
The Immigration Minister, Damian Green, told the Mail on Sunday that student visas had been handed out to those who were illiterate, of no fixed abode, or who thought that hospitality management “enabled someone to work in a hospital”.
A number of universities have real concerns about the impact of the immigration cap. Professor Steve Smith, president of vice-chancellors’ umbrella group, Universities UK, and vice-chancellor of Exeter University recently noted in the Guardian that the cap:
‘..could be a serious blow to the UK market in the face of huge competition from other countries that are investing in higher education… with the investment that competitor countries such as the US and China are putting into universities makes them more likely to poach staff at British universities. All of which amounts to a serious worry.’
Universities UK said that the consultation over student visas had already caused considerable uncertainty as colleges were already recruiting students for the next academic year: “We do not think that international students should be counted as migrants. They are not here for economic reasons, their time in the UK does not count towards any later application for settlement, unlike workers, and they have no recourse to public funds,” chief executive Nicola Dandridge said.
“International student recruitment is a major success story for the UK.”
James Pitman, the managing director of Study Group recently pointed out in the Financial Times, that any reduction in student numbers would be ‘disastrous for the UK’s fragile economy’ given that education and training exports are worth almost 40 Billion – representing the second biggest contributor to the UK’s net balance of payments behind financial Services.
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