Student Visas - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by Nazarene Theological College (SV6)


Nazarene Theological College, founded in 1944, is a partner college of The University of Manchester. It has some 250 students, over 40% of whom are from outside the UK (not all of these are on student visas: some are from the EU, and more are part-time students or on student visas). These students are all on HE courses, from PhD to CertHE level.

The College has a world-wide reputation in the area of Wesley Studies, with some 50 PhD students studying at the college—most of whom are from outside the UK and EU.

Full time students and student visitors are finding it increasingly difficult to obtain the necessary visas in a timely and systematic manner. We are concerned that increased restrictions on Tier 4 migration will discourage students from attending here, and erode the high standing in which the college is held. These students bring significant income to the College, its University, and the economy at large, and it would be a disaster were they to be excluded or discouraged from coming here.

The focus of restrictions should be on "bogus institutions" and on "bogus students"; on ensuring that the UKBA tracks and acts on students whom institutions report as withdrawn or defaulted. We should not be targeting genuine students and genuine institutions. Private sector institutions whose HE courses are all validated by reputable British universities should be treated in line with their partner university institutions.

1.  Cuts to Visas for certain courses

It is undeniable that the "student visa" route has been an easy way into the UK for students with no intention of pursuing studies. In recent years, "bogus colleges" with no academic standing have been allowed to flourish, and students have been granted visas to take up courses there. For this reason, we have welcomed a more rigorous assessment of institutions, and would want to ensure that all sponsoring institutions are genuinely academically validated. Not to do so would erode confidence in UK HE.

This might suggest that we would support restrictions of visas at sub-degree level. However, I would note that often students who wish to attend UK institutions need to be exposed to English language study, and this is almost always at sub-degree level. If a way can be found to ensure that the institutions which offer such programmes are reputable and of good standing, then we would support their continued ability to sponsor students, as they provide a valuable service to the HE sector. But we must be rigorous in denying sponsor status to institutions that do not meet these requirements.

I would also note that there are times when students are required to take pre-sessional studies, as foundations for their degree work. It would be counter-productive if students were barred from taking such preliminary studies, so long as they have firm offers of a place when their pre-sessional work is complete.

2.  Impact of cuts on sectors

The proposed cuts would hit HE very hard, as they bring much-needed income to the HE sector - particularly at postgraduate level. Some of the suggested restrictions (that students no longer be allowed to work 20 hours, or their spouses to work) would mean that students would be less inclined to choose the UK as a study location. Increasingly, only students who have state resources or significant private wealth will be able to come to the UK to study, thus virtually excluding many of those who have heretofore completed studies in the humanities, including theology.

This college would no longer be viable were non-EU students, as a result of visa restrictions, to choose to study elsewhere. Resourcing a global community is a key part of our educational mission; recruiting such students is a critical part of our institutional strategy and our fiscal viability. We are a small college, employing some thirty members of staff, but our story is replicated across the UK: we are outside the University sector, and therefore often unseen and voiceless, but our disappearance would be a loss to the diversity of HE and to the economy of the UK.

3.  The UK's Standing in the World

NTC has developed a global reputation in its specialist area, and has built a strong partnership with its validating university, The University of Manchester. We draw students from over 30 countries, and they come to us because of the reputation of British Higher Education and because of the quality of the product we are able to deliver. It is also the diversity of scholars within UK HE that is particularly and uniquely attractive. Its loss would be both incalculable and irreplaceable. This institution is a microcosm of HE in the UK: it has taken generations to establish, especially in an increasingly competitive world-wide education system, but it could easily be lost.

If I might offer an illustration: we are part of a global network of 57 colleges and universities within our faith tradition. It is to this college, in Manchester, that these sister schools send their brightest and their best, because they recognise the quality of the research programme that we have developed and which we sustain. Our standards are recognised by our global partners, and funds are committed to this institution on the basis of that world-class research provision. This supports UK jobs and brings funds into the economy. Closing the doors to this would be to discard a long-nurtured treasure. Undoubtedly, these resources would then be channelled elsewhere, to more welcoming environments

4.  Effect on the decisions of highly qualified graduates to conduct research or take up teaching posts in the UK

This is a key issue: without doubt, highly qualified graduates (those, for instance, seeking admission to our PhD programme) will be discouraged from applying if there are significant new restrictions applied. I include in this the removal of the right to work part time (or for spouse to work); access to health systems; the possibility of postgraduates to access post-study visas.

The right for dependents to enter the country and for spouses to work is essential for the well-being of the student and her or his family. The cost of living in the UK is high - and most students with families need to contribute to the household resources while resident in the UK. Denying spouses the right to work would be counter-intuitive on several fronts. First, the emotional health of research students would be adversely affected by any additional financial strain on students. Second, the health and stability of families would be adversely affected if spouses and dependents were not allowed entry. Similarly, denial of access to the health system may be catastrophic and inhumane for vulnerable people, and Visa students often fall into this category. Denial of access to the National Health Service would eliminate yet another competitive advantage that the UK has in welcoming visa students.

All of these things are significant. And, of course, if these research students go elsewhere, then they are less likely to see the UK as a place to seek teaching posts or employment, and this would impoverish the UK, diminishing our global reputation in HE.

5.  The post-study route

This is an important option for highly-qualified individuals. We would not necessarily be opposed to this right being withdrawn for BA graduates. However, for those with the PhD (or M level qualifications) this provides a valuable means of gaining experience and "finding a place" in their profession. For those moving from M-level to PhD level, the post-study visa often offers a space during which time they can focus and form their research proposal, and work in the area, without having to dislocate family and home. It is not unusual for there to be a gap of some months or a year between the end of one set of studies and the start of the next, and the post-study route helps with this.

More significantly, it allows junior scholars to gain experience in an academic setting that often is invaluable, both for them and for the institutions for whom they work. In order for the UK to remain in the upper echelons of the world-wide HE market, it must be able to attract the best and brightest of scholars from wherever. And it must be able to retain some of those it has educated from around the world, not least in retaining the international character of the institutions. It would be a grievous loss were this to disappear.

Forcing graduates to return home in order to reapply for advanced degrees would discourage our best students from progressing to research study. Students often are encouraged to move from MA to PhD study, and to be forced to relocate one's family twice in order to do this is entirely counter-intuitive.

6.  International Comparisons

We know that this government wishes the UK to continue to be a world-leader in higher education. If we close the doors to international students, then they will be welcomed elsewhere. Canada, for example, operates a more generous post-study policy than the UK, and has a similar policy on allowing students to work. Australia and New Zealand allow students and their spouses to work, and allows students to move to "work permit" status without returning home. At a time of economic concern, students bring resources to our country, and we must be looking for ways to encourage those resources to come to the UK.

The UK should be focussing on "bogus colleges" and "bogus students" rather than putting obstacles in the way of genuine institutions and genuine students. Eliminating institutions which take advantage of unwary students will reinforce the UK's reputation; creating more barriers for genuine students will encourage them to look elsewhere.

7.  Summary

In summary:

  • We strongly support the government's desire to eliminate "bogus colleges" and "bogus students".
  • We urge the government to reject several of the proposals under discussion because they would have an adverse effect on the attractiveness of British higher education. Specifically, we would urge rejection of:
    • any proposal to prevent dependents from entering the UK, especially for courses lasting more than one year;
    • any proposal that would prevent spouses from legal employment while in the UK;
    • any proposal that would restrict access to health services beyond current restrictions;
    • any proposal to close the post-study scheme for M-level and post-doctoral graduates; and
    • any requirements that students leave the UK and re-apply for entry from outside when moving from BA to M-level or from M to doctoral level.

January 2011

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