Home Affairs Committee report on student visas

17 March 2011

Commenting on the Home Affairs Select Committee’s report on student visas, Russell Group Director General Dr Wendy Piatt said:

“We welcome the Home Affairs Committee’s recognition that international students are critically important to the UK’s universities and economy. Higher education is one of our most successful export industries. Through their tuition fees and living expenditure alone, international students are worth billions each year to the UK economy. This successful track record must be one of the Government’s key consideration as it reforms the visa system. 

“It is vital that the UK continues to attract the very best academics and students from around the world if we are to maintain our global standing in higher education. There is a fierce global market for the best academic talent, and our track record in attracting international staff and students has made a very important contribution to the considerable intellectual and financial success of UK higher education to date.

“At a time when universities are facing severe funding cuts, it would be very unhelpful if visa restrictions were allowed to cut off international students as a vital income source. International students and graduates are indispensible for a thriving economy and society. If we do not offer international graduates of our universities the opportunity to work for a short period in highly-skilled jobs – through the Post-Study Work scheme – some of the world's brightest students will choose to study elsewhere. The Committee has suggested that Post-Study Work opportunities could be focussed on the most highly qualified graduates and those with offers of skilled employment; the Government should consider these proposals further.

“As the report highlights, increasing the regulations of English language requirements for all students would threaten the high quality preparatory courses that our universities provide for international students. If the English language requirements are set at an impossibly high level for preparatory courses, many outstanding international students would be turned away.

“The international student market is highly sensitive to visa system changes, as the USA and Australia have experienced to their detriment. The UK needs to be clear that its doors are open to genuine international students. Even the perception that the UK does not welcome the very best international students can be damaging.”

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