Student Visas - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (SV8)


This submission outlines specific concerns of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine on the UKBA's proposed reforms to the student immigration system. As a leading institution worldwide for research and education in global health, we believe the reforms would negatively impact on our greatest reputational asset—the cultural diversity of our students—and on our capacity to attract the highest quality international postgraduate students. Such students are key drivers of quality research and thus the reforms would impair the School's standing, the UK's leading position in global health and the UK's contribution to international development. Examples of the value of international students to the School, to the UK and to the wider global health community are presented.

1.  The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine is a leading institution worldwide for research and postgraduate education in global health. Part of the University of London, the School is the largest institution of its kind in Europe with a remarkable depth and breadth of expertise encompassing many disciplines. It is one of the highest-rated research institutions in the UK and has an outstanding reputation for its education and training programmes. At any point in time, students at the School come from over 100 countries and our alumni are present in 180 countries. The School is truly an international institution and the cultural diversity of its students and staff is one of its strongest reputational features for those who work and study here.

2.  The School is therefore concerned at any changes to the student immigration system which would impair our ability to continue to attract the best students from around the world. We believe that the changes proposed, whilst in part addressing remaining areas of abuse and simplification of the current system, also threaten to deter genuine students from studying in the UK—both through the actual changes proposed and by creating a perception that the UK does not welcome or facilitate admission of international students. With the growing number of competitors elsewhere, even for specialist institutions such as the School, and the current economic circumstances which UK higher education is in, any actions which deter international students risk being very detrimental to the sector.

3.  Of particular concern to the School among the proposed changes, which we believe will result in fewer international students coming to study with us in London, are:

  • (i)  The restrictions on dependants to only those studying for longer than 12 months—our taught Masters courses are of 51 weeks duration although international students are normally issued a visa for approximately 15 months. The proposed restriction would thus be open to interpretation as to whether Masters students would qualify for bringing dependants or not. Many of our students, especially those from low and middle income countries, are mature mid-career students with dependants, thus restriction of dependants would have a negative impact on this significant group.
  • (ii)  The prohibition of work by dependants—we believe this will significantly deter international students with dependants from considering the UK for their studies as the cost of maintaining the family in the UK would be prohibitive. This would be especially true for postgraduate research students who spend three to four years in the UK.
  • (iii)  The restrictions on work by location and timing—this proposal appears to penalise all international students in an attempt to curb abuse of the current system. It is not clear that the proposal would address such abuse and yet the proposed restrictions are likely to lead to isolation of students from local communities—a particular concern for long-term students such as postgraduate research students. It also fails to recognise the nature and timing of postgraduate study, especially research degree study where study and employment timings can be considerably flexible.
  • (iv)  The 2-year Post Study Work visa is an attractive feature for international students and its proposed closure would serve to reinforce the negative message to international students that the UK sees little benefit of them beyond their study fees.
  • (v)  The proposal that students should return home to extend their visa - for example in progressing from Masters to a postgraduate research degree—would be a detriment to the ease of progression. It is both costly and time-consuming to return home to apply and could risk timely start or completion of their studies.

4.  We put forward the following points on the value of international students to the School, to the UK and to the wider global health community.

  • (a)  Among our students attending courses in the UK, all of whom are postgraduate, 40% of our Masters and 45% of our research degree students are international, ie are from outside the EU. Demand for the School's courses continues to grow—international student numbers have risen from 291 in 2001-02 to 432 in 2010-11, an increase of 48%, as have those from within the EU (including the UK) such that the percentage of our students who are international has remained steady over this period. This growth in students attending courses in London has taken place alongside the establishment in 1998 of our distance learning (DL) programme. Sixty per cent of DL students are based outside the EU and numbers have grown from approx 400 in 2000-01 to 2800 in 2010-11, an increase of 600%. These figures highlight both the demand for the School's courses but also that the demand for studying in London is undiminished even when home-based alternatives are available.
  • (b)  The cultural diversity of the School's students and staff is one of its strongest reputational features, giving outstanding international networking and professional collaboration opportunities. Any changes to the student immigration system which damaged the School's international diversity would substantially impair our capacity to recruit students, not only internationally but also from the UK and other EU countries. The value of the international diversity is illustrated by the following comment from a UK student:

"The cultural melting pot that is LSHTM is perhaps the best and most fulfilling aspect of being at the School and one that I had not considered when applying. From the very first day there are opportunities to work with, learn from and make friends with people from across the globe. Sharing experiences, knowledge and cultural understanding has broadened my horizons far more than the academic course alone."

  • (c)  The School has research collaborations in over 100 countries. Many of these were initiated through relationships developed during a student's time at the School, especially that of research degree students, and/or have a strong student presence in their current activity. These collaborations are vital to the School's maintenance of its leading research position, nationally and internationally, and bring access to a wide range of international research funding sources (especially critical in the current constrained UK economic climate). International students therefore contribute to the UK's research effort and competitiveness.
  • (d)  Most (>60%) of the School's international students are from low- and middle-income countries who return there, or to similar settings, to take up positions in government, NGOs, academic institutions etc. Furthermore, many of our other international students (most of whom are from north America), go on to careers which base them in low or middle income settings. That is, our international students come to the UK to study but pursue subsequent employment elsewhere. Although the DLHE survey does not cover international students, our own alumni tracing studies show very high employment or further study (>90%) with fewer than 1% classifying themselves as unemployed.
  • (e)  As an example of the value of international students to the wider UK community, our international students are significant contributors to the School's award-winning young scientists programme which offers work experience opportunities to school students, primarily from disadvantaged schools across London.[3]
  • (f)  The profile and employment destinations of our international student body also illustrate the significant capacity-strengthening role that the School has and our contribution to international development. This contribution is widely acknowledged in international agencies, national governments and academic institutions etc. The School, its students and its alumni thus act as strong ambassadors for the UK's efforts in the international development arena. An example of that recognition was the School being the first UK and the first academic institution to be awarded the Bill and Melinda Gates Award for Global Health in 2009.

January 2011

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