Foreign students being put off by immigration crackdown
11 January 2013
In 2011, David Cameron promised to reduce the net level of immigration to the UK to below 100,000 before the 2015 general election. However, a report published by the Institute for Public Policy Research last month suggested that this goal would not be met. As a result, universities are concerned that ministers will increasingly focus on overseas students.
These fears have been strengthened by comments from senior ministers.
Last month, the home secretary, Theresa May, announced that consular staff would interview more than 100,000 student applicants in the hopes of preventing bogus applications. She also added that immigrants were responsible for pushing up UK house prices. These comments were made following the launch of new restrictions on students' right to work during and after their academic studies.
There are concerns that this has given the impression that overseas students are no longer welcome at UK universities, causing them to apply elsewhere and resulting in universities losing some of the brightest foreign students.
According to Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK (which represents the UK's universities), her organisation is concerned about the language and the atmosphere that is being created, not least because it plays very, very badly internationally."
This crackdown could also have repercussions for the UK's economy, as the market in foreign students brings an estimated GBP8 billion a year into the economy. According to a study by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, this was formerly expected to rise to GBP16.8 billion by 2025.
Statistics are already showing the direct impact that these changes are having: figures from the Office for National Students showed a 26% decrease in the number of student visas in the year up to September 2012. This is despite the fact that, previously, applications through UCAS from non-EU students were rising by an average of nearly 7% per year.
Dandridge said that universities were already reporting significant drops in postgraduate applications from overseas students. She said that this was particularly true for students from Pakistan, China and Saudi Arabia, which are "important countries in terms of international engagement and industry engagement, so we want to be promoting and fostering relations with them, not erecting barriers". She added that "politicians and decision-makers [need to be encouraged] to portray the UK as being open and welcoming to international students."
Further emphasising the importance of overseas students in building relationships with other countries, she added: "They bring connections that reap dividends in financial and cultural and social terms way into the future... By all manner of measures our universities are very strong and powerful international brands... this is mission critical for universities and indeed for the country."
Mark Harper, the immigration minister, recognised the "important contribution" that international students have made to the UK's economy. "The UK's education system is one of the best in the world but to maintain this reputation it is vital that we tackle the abuse of the student route, while making sure Britain remains open for business," he said. He confirmed that, since the rules have been tightened, 500 colleges have lost the ability to bring in international students.