UK Government defends student immigration policy as Universities finally wake up to the cold wind of change
The British government has rejected claims that a crackdown on immigration could harm British universities and cost the economy billions of pounds a year.
Around 70 university heads have written to Prime Minister David Cameron warning that changes to Tier 4 student visas would drive international applicants away.
They join the growing call to the Home Office to take foreign students, who bring in £8bn a year, out of net immigration counts.
But ministers argue that the policy does not stop ‘genuine’ students coming to the UK.
Immigration Minister Damian Green said the government was “determined to prevent the abuse of student visas as part of our plans to get net migration down to the tens of thousands.”
“Students coming to the UK for over a year are not visitors”, he said. “Numbers affect communities, public services and infrastructure.”
UK receives £8bn tuition fees alone
In the letter to the PM, senior education figures called for David Cameron to class foreign students as temporary rather than permanent migrants.
But Mr Green pointed out that the Independent Office for National Statistics was responsible for producing net migration figures, which were based on an internationally agreed definition of a migrant – someone entering the country for more than a year.
“Public confidence in statistics will not be enhanced by revising the way the net migration numbers are presented by removing students”, he said.
In their letter, the signatories expressed concern that Britain’s higher education industry could be damaged by tough changes to immigration policy.
Britain currently attracts around one in 10 students who study outside their home country (second only to the U.S.), generating around £8bn a year in tuition fees, they said.
This, they added, could increase to £17bn by 2025.
The total benefit to the UK economy from international students is closer to £40 billion according to some estimates.
But the heads warned the government’s immigration policy risked driving international students to the United States, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and Germany.
The letter was also signed by Sir Menzies Campbell, the former Liberal Democrat leader and chancellor of St Andrews University, and the broadcaster and chancellor of the University of Leeds, Lord Melvyn Bragg.
Other signatories include the former Conservative minister and chancellor of the University of Hull, Virginia Bottomley, and Patrick Stewart, chancellor of the University of Huddersfield.
UK Universities, which represents 134 higher education institutions, has warned that Britain will lose billions of pounds unless the coalition urgently abandons new immigration rules for overseas students.
UK Universities also depend financially on these students – some charge non-EU students more than four times as much as home students. One has already reported it has seen applications from non-EU students drop by 40% this year.
At a conference in February on how immigration policies are affecting universities, Professor Julia King, the vice-chancellor of Aston University, said her institution had recorded a 39% fall in the number of applications from Indian students this year compared with last.
She added that there had been a decline of 29% in applications from Nigerian students. She put both down to Britain’s immigration policies.
As a result, her institution had £3m less income, which was “quite significant for an institution with a £120m turnover”. Birmingham’s economy would suffer at least a £6m loss as a result, she told the conference.
The Institute of Public Policy Research thinktank has also argued that ministers have included overseas students in the government’s net migration count because they are more interested in playing the numbers game than in long-term migration.
Figures released on 24 May revealed that annual net migration to the UK is currently 250,000 – still double the government’s target of fewer than 100,000 people a year.
The most common reason for people coming to the UK is to study, as in previous years.
Recent visa changes include rules that prohibit international students from bringing their dependents with them – unless they are enrolled on a postgraduate course of at least 12 months.
A “more selective” system has also been put in place for students wishing to stay and work in the UK, after they finish their course. Source: BBC.
Universities have finally woken up to the damaging consequences of changes to the Tier 4 immigration Rules.
Many will now face downsizing or even closure, which will be deeply uncomfortable to the ‘jobs for life’ academics.
However, most of the government’s restrictions were aimed not at universities, but at students who wanted to attend a cheaper private college to take a diploma or degree course.
Since July 2010 any international students applying for a visa to a private college are no longer able to work part time in the UK.
As private colleges have closed or had licences withdrawn, thousands of students have been given just 60 days to find another college or get out of the country.
One student who consulted Immigration Adviser Cynthia Barker, of Bison UK, had lost money at two institutions which had closed down. When he tried to join a university he was rejected because he could not obtain a progress report.
‘His life was been made a misery by the maze of rules which seemed to trip him up at every turn.
‘First he couldn’t find a university with a start date for his course, which was not easy with a 60 day sentence hanging over his head.
‘Then he had to go back to his parents for more money to change his visa as, unlike the previous rules which would have allowed a change of provider under the same student visa, he had to apply for and qualify a whole new visa.
‘He eventually found a university which would ‘accept’ him, but by this time he did not have the required funds for the exact amount of time in his account in order to apply and pay for another visa.’
Bison UK are now helping him with an appeal be allowed to study in the UK, but the whole experience has severely dented his confidence in the British system.
Universities were happy to stand by in silence during the clampdown on so called ‘bogus’ private colleges, which they though would clear away completion.
But they overlooked the fact that thousands of international students who came to the UK to a private colleges eventually went on to study at a university.
How do they think students learn basic English or gain diplomas and entry level qualifications for degree and masters courses at universities?
Finally, if you were a parent of a prospective student in India, China or Africa reading the news and hearing about students in the UK, where would you send your child to study?
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