Student Visas - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by University for the Creative Arts (SV4)


This submission responds to the main points in the Home Affairs Committee Inquiry on the impact of the proposed restrictions on Tier 4 (student route) migration. This submission, presented by the University for the Creative Arts aims to outline briefly the main disadvantages for the UK higher education sector should the proposed restrictions be accepted. This submission argues that reducing numbers of non-economic migrants is not the way to respond to perceived abuse of this migration route. We believe rather that efforts should be focused on ensuring that UK providers of education (level 3 and above) to international students are well regulated and compliant with Tier 4 requirements and, that students who overstay their leave should be identified and pursued. This approach we believe is preferable to closing routes to genuine students and putting the future of bona fide UK organisations at risk.

The following paragraphs address the particular points the inquiry will focus on:

1.    Whether the cuts should be limited to certain types of courses (eg pre-degree level)

1.1  International students pursue level 3 programmes in the UK by way of preparation for undergraduate study. Closing this route to undergraduate study for international students has the potential to depress numbers of international students able and willing to participate in long-term UK higher education. This will impact negatively on the UK economy, and will threaten the sustainability of genuine level 3 providers, including many Universities and other HEIs. It is a wholly inappropriate mechanism with which to tackle abuse of the immigration system.

2.    The impact different levels of cuts might have on the various sectors

2.1  Denying the opportunity to offer particular categories of courses to any provider other than one with HTS status is problematic. There is a range of providers in the sector offering courses to meet students' needs across a variety of levels from pre-HE through to research degrees. Closing level 3 is likely to have an impact on both private and public providers of foundation and pathway programmes. Some organisations may have to close. The proposal to raise the minimum level of English course that an HEI may provide to C1 (equivalent to IELTS 7.0+), and to require all students wishing to study an English course to have a minimum level of B2 (equivalent to IELTS 5.0+), will also have a significant impact on the sector. We believe that such a proposal is perverse, and will cause immense damage to the English language training industry, an industry of which state funded HEIs form a significant part, and an industry which contributes significant sums to the UK economy. To permit only those students who already have a high level of English to come and study English clearly makes no sense at all. To prohibit genuine students from studying English at genuine institutions will do nothing to reduce abuse of the immigration system. However it will put a huge dent in the UK's export figures and will threaten the sustainability of a flourishing sector (one of the few current economic success stories), including a number of UK Universities.

2.2  In a context of unprecedented change, and unknown consequences, in the UK higher education sector as a result of the Browne Review, the sector has a serious need to protect itself through the diversification of income. Buoyant overseas recruitment will help to mitigate some of the effects of the changes to funding arrangements for home/EU students. The proposed restrictions put such recruitment at significant risk.

3.    The impact, if any, that reductions in student visas might have on the UK's standing in the world

3.1  The risk here is the likely damage to the UK's reputation as the provider of a world-class education to all those able to benefit from it. A cap on immigration numbers, targeting some nationalities more than others, will demonstrate the UK's apparent unwillingness to engage with large parts of the global community. This is not an enviable subject position. Managing student immigration through effective mechanisms for checking qualifications, ability, financial means, potential and return home after study, in dialogue with well-regulated, complaint providers is a fairer and more defensible approach to immigration control.

3.2  It is possible that the reductions in available student visas will impact negatively on the UK's position as a global leader in the creative economy (highest contribution per capita to GDP, OECD figures). If UK higher education is unable to attract, educate, retain and benefit from the world's best creative talent, we will not maintain our position as the largest in creative economy in Europe.

4.    Whether cuts in student visas would have any effect on the decisions of highly qualified graduates to conduct research or take up teaching posts in the UK

4.1  It is conceivable that some international graduates may choose not to pursue research or teaching positions in the UK. However, as these activities are more than likely covered by schemes other than Tier 4 (while PhD students may need a Tier 4 visa, those taking research or teaching posts will be covered by Tier 2), the impact here is likely to be considerably less significant than the impact that closing routes and capping numbers will have on student recruitment.

5.    Whether the post study route should be continued

5.1  The current post-study work scheme does not require an applicant to have a job offer in hand to qualify for a two-year visa. This is inappropriate so the scheme as it currently exists should be discontinued. Applicants for employment are able to seek leave to remain through other means (Tier 2) which should cover any shortfall caused by the withdrawal of the current post-study route.

6.    The educational routes through which students come to the UK to study at degree level

6.1  The main disadvantage of the proposals is the damage to the reputation of UK higher education as a world-class destination for international students looking for a high standard of education in a friendly and welcoming context. Using immigration rules to limit numbers coming into the UK in the hope that problems with the system will disappear as a result is unlikely to be successful. It is possible that the reputational damage caused by separating students and institutions into high-risk, low-risk, etc will do little for the UK other than to lead students to elect to pursue their education elsewhere.

6.2  Perhaps the most significant disadvantage is the potential lack of level 3 opportunities in the UK. The risk here is that such a policy is likely to propel students into other education markets resulting in them remaining in alternative locations other than the UK for the remainder of their educational career. The UKBA's own consultation document draws attention to the significant contribution that international students make to the UK economy; a contribution that is at serious risk if students are denied access to a major recruiting part of the sector.

6.3  The proposals do not take into account the large numbers of international students who travel to the UK, complete their course and return home without incident. They appear, as presented here, to be a blunt instrument to deal with particular and specific anxieties about high levels of immigration to the UK. The issue is not one of denying students access to courses or of forbidding particular elements of the sector the opportunity to deliver high-quality programmes, but rather it is an issue of the UK education industry being robust, well managed and compliant with immigration regulations. Changing the Tier 4 route to simply reduce overall numbers is not the way to proceed. We would urge the committee to ask itself what is, or should be, the objective of these proposals—is it simply to reduce student immigration (in order to meet overall net migration targets), or is it to reduce immigration by bogus students? If the former, then we believe that this would be a misguided objective, as student migrants are not economic migrants, and far from being a drain on the public funds they, as customers of an export product, actually contribute enormous sums to the UK economy. If the latter, then the objective will not be achieved through the proposals as outlined—this objective would best be met through greater focus on enforcement and compliance, rooting out the least reputable institutions. Whichever the intended objective, far greater transparency, honesty and clarity of thought are needed.

We would agree with Keith Vaz's view that, "We respect the fact that the Government wishes to tighten up the immigration system but feel that … efforts would be far better directed towards tackling bogus colleges and those who overstay their visas in order to seek employment, than penalising legitimate students."

January 2011

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