Student Visas - Home Affairs Committee Contents


Written evidence submitted by the University of Sheffield Students' Union (SV9)

"I am currently studying in my third year of a degree course at the University of Sheffield. I am originally from South Korea and have lived three years in New Zealand and Australia prior to coming to the UK. I decided to study in this country due to its well-known reputation for welcoming open minds towards multiculturalism as well as its rich history and prestige of its universities. I have not yet regretted my decision of coming here as I enjoyed everything this country offered immensely. This experience even taught me to consider completing my PHD here if there will be any chance.

However, the recent radical change on the immigration policies proposed by the government rather shocked me. I am deeply concerned that this proposal will cause a lot of problems not only for the international students, but also the British public in general including the universities and employers. I now fear that if this proposal goes through, no one who is from outside of the UK will feel welcomed even to be in this country. This news rather forced me to reconsider all my future plans and once again, I do not believe this is a rational choice for the future of this country.

I sincerely hope that the government reconsiders and can come up with a more rational alternative that addresses the immigration issues in a way that is not so prejudice towards people who are coming here to learn."

Undergraduate student, South Korea

SUMMARY

1.  The University of Sheffield Students' Union represents over 24,000 students of whom just under 5000 are international students from outside the European Economic Area and will be directly affected by the proposals to reform the Student Immigration System. Our international students come from over 137 countries round the world.

2.  We agree with the need to tackle abuse in the student category and support any measures which achieve this.We understand that students at degree level and above are not the target of the proposed reforms but are concerned that some of the proposals will damage the student experience and future recruitment at this level.

3.  We have consulted our current students and had over 130 direct responses from our international students to the proposals who are very worried about the impact of the proposed changes on their future study and work plans. In particular they are most aggrieved about the proposals to abolish the Post Study Work Scheme which allows students who have successfully completed a degree to stay in the UK to work for two years. Many students chose to come to the UK because of this scheme and now feel that their plans are about to be shattered by these proposals. There is no doubt that the way in which current students are treated by the Coalition government with respect to the PSW scheme will be pivotal in managing what could be a devastating "own goal" in terms of future student recruitment.

4.  The majority of our international students study at degree level or above. About 12% study at undergraduate level, 44% at Masters level and 37% are doing PhDs. They all pay a higher rate of fee which ranges from around £10,940 for an Arts degree to just under £15000 for an Engineering degree. This fee income currently accounts for 12% of the University's total income which is vital within the context of the funding changes recently announced for the higher education sector. They also bring a significant amount of money into the local economy by paying for their accommodation and living expenses. They are not allowed to claim public funds and are not allowed to work more than 20 hours per week.

5.  All students are being encouraged to develop their global awareness and we fear that these changes will deter international students from choosing the UK for their university education. This means an impoverished university experience for our home students who benefit hugely from our diverse international student body.

 "I am a second year PhD student at the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and am from Iran. I came to UK about two and a half years ago, and completed a masters degree in Materials Engineering before starting a PhD.

I believe that the new rules are just disgraceful. Abolishing the post study work scheme and limiting the rights to work during term time can strongly affect my life and my future. […].

I did not come to this country to increase the unemployment rate or to commit a crime. I came here for becoming a very successful scientist who may have a very tiny role in science and probably help this world to be a better world like lots of other ambitious scientists. United Kingdom could give many bright international students the opportunity to use the facilities in some of the high-ranking universities in the world to reach their potential, and to help this country to develop more and more[…]I wish I could have a voice to express my opinions and ask my questions from this government or those who approve having such rules in a developed country like UK.

PhD student, Iran

GENERAL PRINCIPLES

1.  Many of our students support the aims of tackling abuse but do not see how restricting their rights will achieve anything other than reduce the flow of international students into British universities which will have a significant negative impact on the economy and the learning opportunities for all students. These measures make international students feel incredibly unwelcome in the UK. This is bad for the UK higher education sector and the wider economy as these students will take their money elsewhere to the US, Australia and New Zealand in the future.

"I have been to the UK for almost 5 years. I did start as an English student in a small English institution in London. Now I am doing a PhD in one of the top universities in the UK, I have also taken a MA and some courses on law in London. All this fully founded (sic) by non EU or UK institutions, neither TAX payers money from the EU.

I guess if there had been those rules, that the new government wants to implement, I would have had no chance to take those courses and rather studied in a more immigrant friendly country such as Australia, Singapore, Canada and even the US. Thanks God, I did before all these nonsense changes. By the way, I have no intention to remain in this country after I finish my PhD."

PhD student, Colombia

2.  We recognise the government's commitment to reduce net migration but do not believe reducing international student numbers will achieve the desired policy goals. International students come to the UK to receive our excellent educational services. They are not permanent migrants and are not a drain on the UK economy. They pay full fees for their studies and have to bring sufficient funds to cover all their living costs for them and any dependants. If they do work part time as allowed under the current rules they will pay tax and national insurance like any other UK resident. In addition part of their visa fee already includes a surcharge of £50 as a contribution towards their use of public services.

3.  We cannot imagine a policy which would support the reduction of the number of tourists to the UK as they are seen as a "good thing" as they bring vital income into the UK economy. International students are the same and much more.

"The immigration laws currently in place already make us feel undesired, unwelcome and in some ways inhuman; the new proposals are even worse and would put off many students and researchers from coming to the UK. The UK economy as whole, and not just universities, will be negatively affected on the long run especially if the Post Study Work scheme is closed given that some occupations where there is a shortage are mostly filled by international graduates."

Undergraduate student, Morocco

ABOLITION OF POST STUDY WORK SCHEME

1.  The vast majority of respondents were concerned about the possible abolition of the PSW scheme. Many had chosen to come to the UK precisely because of the offer of this scheme.

"I can still remember that when British Council held seminar in Pakistan on Studying in the UK, getting a PSW was highlighted as one of the main advantages of coming to UK. We were told that it will be a big advantage for our future career if we also get a UK work experience after completion of studies. Honestly, I prefer UK over USA only for this reason, realising the importance of gaining work experience as part of UK study experience."

Masters student, Pakistan

These students were sold a package which promised them - come to the UK, get a great education and get some work experience before you return home. As one student succinctly puts it: "degree + work experience = world class education". Our students now feel cheated by the UK government and worried about their futures.

"For an international student, studying in the UK is not just about a degree, but an international experience. Working for a short while at the end of one's course is an integral part of that experience, and also provides practical context to the course studied."

Masters student, India

2.  We have evidence from students who already have job offers from companies such as National Grid, Jaguar Land Rover and Proctor and Gamble for their graduate trainee programmes to start in the summer of 2011. These offers were made on the basis that they would be eligible for the PSW. These students who were all were offered these jobs through a highly competitive recruitment process are now extremely worried about their future. The employers have limited room to manoeuvre as they cannot easily convert these prospective employees into Tier 2 due to the cap. The abolition of PSW will adversely affect the operation of UK based global businesses who cannot always recruit the necessary skills from within the UK/EEA.

3.  The PSW scheme is also vital to our Architecture students who typically study a three year BA degree in Architecture followed by a year of work experience before doing their MArch for two years. Up until this point they are covered under the Tier 4 provisions. Following this they must do a further 12 months work placement in the UK before they can take Part 3 of the Royal Institute of British Architects examination. It is only after successful completion of the Part 3 exam that a person can finally call themselves a registered architect. Currently the only way for any architecture student to do this final work placement is using the PSW scheme. There is no possibility of such work experience placements being covered under Tier 2. If students cannot meet the final requirements there is no doubt that British universities will not be able to recruit any international students to their courses.

"If an exception is not made for non-EU architectural students, we could study and still not be qualified. It is frustrating for us because we have spent many years in the UK and worked hard with the hope of being a qualified Architect only to suddenly find ourselves shortchanged by the clashes in regulations between the UK Border Agency and the RIBA. I believe British Schools of Architecture should be aware of this situation as it suggests all non-EU overseas students to stop applying to study RIBA-accredited Architecture courses in British Universities."

MArch student, Malaysia

4.  Recent UKBA research suggested that the vast majority of international students on the PSW scheme were not in highly skilled jobs. We do not think this research was sufficiently robust. For instance, it did not compare a cohort of UK/EEA recent graduates to see the numbers who actually had graduate level jobs on completion of their studies. Our international students value the PSW scheme highly as they see it as a way to add value to their degrees before they go home. They do not want to work in unskilled job but they have been encouraged to get any work experience rather than none at all.

RECOMMENDATIONS

1.  We urge the government to consider the retention of the PSW scheme for students in skills shortage areas and courses where there is a mandatory requirement for work experience in the UK such as Architecture.

2.  We also believe it is vital for the government to retain the PSW scheme for all existing international students who commenced courses before the publication of these proposals. This is particularly important for those students who are due to graduate this year as many of them have already formulated plans based on staying in the UK.

OTHER PROPOSALS

1.  We also wish to comment on the potential negative impact of other proposals which while not being the direct concern of the inquiry will nonetheless have a devastating impact on our students and indirectly on future recruitment.

2.  Rights to work during studies—all students are encouraged to gain work experience to enhance their overall academic experience. Currently all students on a degree course have the right to work up to a maximum of 20 hours per week for any employer. Under the new proposals, students will only be allowed to work on campus during the week in term time. They would be allowed to work off campus during weekends and vacations. We fear these proposals will make it even more confusing for employers and mean that fewer of our students are able to have this valuable work experience. Our Jobshop at the University has also reported that most jobs are available off campus during the week.

3.  Dependants—Currently, students doing any course of more than six months can be accompanied by their dependants. The Government proposes to only allow students on courses of more than 12 months to bring dependants. This will impact on some of our students who come to do pre-sessional courses (particularly English language) of a duration of between six and 12 months. We are really concerned about the proposal to remove the rights to work for dependants and to only allow them to work if they qualify under Tier 2 or Tier 1 General (which is being largely abolished from April 2011). Put bluntly if our student dependants are not allowed to work it is very likely we will lose a significant number of research students who will go to other countries which have more family friendly immigration policies.

Most of the dependent are actually professional/skilled worker , however due to some restriction such as children care, they choose not to work professionally and choose to work part time ( for example as cleaner which they can work out of office hours). That why it's not fair to ask them to apply for tier 2. If my dependent is not allow to work, I would say that I''ll feel the stress financially.

PhD student, Malaysia

4.  Requirement to return home to apply for visa for new courses—many of our students are very concerned about this proposal due to the additional cost and delay in getting visas from abroad. This may mean that some students are not able to proceed smoothly from their first degree to a PhD. We see no justification for this proposal as it penalises genuine students who are making progress.

5.  No visas for degrees at same level—we cannot understand the logic behind this proposal. This would prevent our international students from taking another Masters degree if they decided they wanted to develop another career path or set of new skills if they already hold a UK degree.

January 2011



 
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Prepared 25 March 2011