Student immigration proposals

01 February 2011

Commenting on Damian Green’s speech on reforming the immigration system and the Russell Group’s submission to the UKBA consultation on student immigration, Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group of universities, said:

“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.

Higher education is one of our most successful export industries; through their tuition fees and living expenditure alone, international students are worth £5.8 billion each year. A much stricter student visa regime could jeopardise millions of pounds of export revenue.

“Proposed changes to make the visa regime stricter could seriously diminish the international attractiveness of our universities. It is crucial that the immigration system continues to support the efforts of our leading universities to attract talented people who have a legitimate interest in studying, teaching, or carrying out research here. The UK should 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 very damaging. 

"The Government should consider changes to post-study work visas very carefully. If we do not offer international UK university graduates the opportunity to work for a short period in highly skilled jobs, some of the world's brightest students will choose to study elsewhere. The new restrictions on dependants would particularly hit older students and those doing research degrees, who are most likely to want and need to bring their dependants with them to the UK.

“We welcome the Government’s plans to allow universities and other Highly Trusted Sponsors to continue to continue to sponsor the best qualified international students both at degree and other levels.  However, some international students currently enter our universities from further education or other sub-degree programmes elsewhere in the UK, and the Government should consider carefully the likely impact of the proposals to restrict the number of such students severely in future.  High quality sub-degree provisions are essential pathways from which many of the best international students progress to full degrees at leading universities. If high quality preparatory courses are greatly reduced or the English language requirements set at an impossibly high level for most, it will make it more difficult for universities to recruit good international students, particularly at undergraduate level.

“International students are not economic migrants but represent a major export industry for the UK.”

Note to Editors

  1. The report Global Value by British Council estimated that in 2002-03 higher education attracted £2.1 billion of investment into the UK in the form of tuition fees paid by non-UK students and that students also accounted for £2.6 billion in other spending whilst in this country.  Given that the total population of non-UK  students in the UK increased by 23 percent between 2002-03 and 2008-09 (from 300,055 to 368,970), it is likely that tuition fees and living expenditure of all non-UK HE students now account for a minimum of £5.8 billion investment in the UK.

UKBA Consultation: The Student Immigration System


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