Student Visas - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by the Aldwych Group (SV34)

The Aldwych Group is the collective name for the Students' Unions of the Russell Group of Universities in the United Kingdom. It was established in 1994, as a watchdog in response to the creation of the Russell Group. Our members include the Students' Unions of:

University of Birmingham

University of Bristol

University of Cambridge

Cardiff University

University of Edinburgh

University of Glasgow

Imperial College London

King's College London

University of Leeds

University of Liverpool

London School of Economics & Political Science

University of Manchester

Newcastle University

University of Nottingham

University of Oxford

Queen's University Belfast

University of Sheffield

University of Southampton

University College London

University of Warwick

Much of our report is adapted from a document that we authored and circulated to the Russell Group on the 24 September 2010 in response to a speech made by Damian Green. We have attached this report as supplementary material.[35] We hope that our submission demonstrates that the student movement is vehemently opposed to these changes and sides with the views of the Russell Group. We also hope that the Home Office can create a fair system that does not punish our students harshly and continues to make the Russell Group attractive to the best and brightest students regardless of nationality.


1.1  The Aldwych Group is the group of the 20 Students' Unions of the members of the Russell Group Universities in the United Kingdom. Our institutions have some of the highest proportion of non-EU students in the UK. For example, more than 40% of the student population of LSE are from non-EU countries, whilst Imperial has more than 35%. Therefore, our institutions will be significantly impacted by these changes.

1.2  The proposed changes are of major concern since international students bring immense benefits to all students, our institutions and our local economies. International students contribute upward to £8 billion in tuition fees alone and more in additional expenditure to local economies for food, accommodation, travel and entertainment. (The most recent estimate is a total contribution of £12.5 billion) In addition, they bring cultural diversity, broaden the experience of British students, provide returns in terms of economic and diplomatic ties and help produce world-class research for the UK. The additional income from overseas tuition fees allows our institutions to recruit more home/EU students and provides additional investment in the facilities available for all students. Therefore, they are net contributors.

1.3  The desire to curb net migration, in its recommended form, directly contradicts the strategy of the Russell Group to attract the best students regardless of nationality and to become the leading international institutions of Higher Education. Potential changes, both in reality and in their uncertainty, will have both direct and indirect damaging impacts on international students and the international reputation of the UK Higher Education sector as a whole.

1.4  We, as elected representatives of our respective student bodies, are therefore against the current proposals. They risk destroying the global diversity of our respective universities, the economic position of the UK and the international competitiveness of UK Universities.

1.5  We believe that illegitimate immigration through the student route should be tackled. However- it is not known why the government is currently targeting legitimate immigration harshly within its proposals, especially since the Russell Group, as Highly Trusted Sponsors, have consistently shown to legitimately recruit the best and brightest international students to study in the United Kingdom. The Russell Group should be exempt from the majority of these proposals given how complex and thorough the visa system for international students wishing to study at our institutions currently is.

1.6  In particular, the proposal to remove the Post-Study Work Visa is causing a great deal of stress for our current international student populations and has already been causing problems for future recruitment. The PSWV is vital for the reputation of the UK Higher Education industry and to for its ability to compete in the international market. As a minimum, current international students should not be affected and the PSWV should still exist in some form or transitional measures should be put in place. We note that there is no evidence of international students taking jobs from UK students and such a change has no economic rationale.


2.1  The committee should note that between 2007 and 2010, various measures have been added to the wide-range of measures already in place in the UK visa system. This has made it increasingly complex and difficult for international students wishing to study in UK Universities.

2.2  The administration fees for international students applying to the UK have risen substantially between 2007 and 2010. In 2007, Biometrics were introduced and must now be taken at both visa and visa extension stages. International students are now issued with an identification card. In 2009, the Points based system was introduced, resulting in a much longer and complex application process.

2.3  In 2009, institutions were now required to monitor international students and report any illegal activity. In 2010, measures were introduced where applicants "were required to speak English near-GCSE level, and those on short courses were no longer allowed to bring dependants." At one point, student visas from certain regions were suspended and Russell Group institutions continue to have issues securing visas for legitimate students from certain countries.

2.4  There is now a more rigorously-vetted list of approved education providers, "which aimed to prevent bogus colleges." International Students already have to prove that they can maintain themselves financially here in the UK as well as register with the police on arrival, on receiving their identification card and upon change of address.

2.5  These changes have already brought concern from the international student community as to how welcome they are in the United Kingdom given the already substantially high fees they pay. It also questions as to how the system could be tightened further. A recent UKCISA report found that the visa system was becoming increasingly complex resulting in "overwhelming negative feedback" which could have a "negative impact on the UK's reputation." Juxtaposing the current system with the proposed system, there is no doubt that this will have an impact on recruitment and the "UK's standing in the world."

2.6 These measures, coupled with public attitude toward immigration- have created an alarming attitude towards international students. We would like to caution the Government about the message it is likely to send with these changes and the rhetoric it uses, as there may be both direct and indirect consequences of these actions which may jeopardise the welfare of our students. The misconceptions and misinformation of international students has contributed heavily towards public perception and little has done to educate the public of the aforementioned benefits they currently provide.


3.1  The proposed changes directly and indirectly have an impact for the international demand of UK further and Higher Education and will undoubtedly undermine the UK as a "world leader in Higher Education." This is not to mention the impact for the international competitiveness of UK industry.

3.2  The UK is already in "danger of seeing its market share slip" as other countries have begun to penetrate the international market and recruit more international students. This has not been "helped by the recent tightening of its border controls." There is a serious risk that further measures will exacerbate the international standing of a UK education and discourage international students from choosing to come to the UK.

3.3  Striking parallels can be drawn with the current situation in Australia. Australia recently tightened it's "visa rules." The recent changes have been found to be "too heavy-handed and are hitting legitimate students." It also had an "election campaign in which international students were caught up in the political debate over cutting overseas migration." The Group of Eight leading universities has recently warned "that a crippling downturn in international student numbers would imperil them."

3.4  The results of the government changes have been staggering and have thrown the Australian education industry into crisis. Commencements "across the sector have been down 7.4% for the year" and "could approach 15% by year's end" with incredible drops in numbers applying from China and India. Enrolment in language courses has fallen by 20% and could drop to 40% which is "alarming for universities since English language courses are a pathway to higher education." Moreover, visas granted to students "applying from overseas has fallen by 25% between 2009 and 2010." This could cause a potential £7 billion collapse in university revenues by 2015. Tony Pollock, the head of the international student recruitment agency in Australia said "it is government policy that is making the difference and that is to do with the visa restrictions, the tightening of the skilled migration environment and the way in which the story between international student activity and net migration has got confused in the public debate." The UK is at risk at following the same footsteps with the current government's tone.

3.5  In addition, the UK will likely lose a huge part of its market share to its competitors, who are attempting to attract additional international students via incentives. Canada offers its skilled international graduates permanent residence after a single year of work. New Zealand is reforming its immigration system to be able to attract more international students. Europe and Asia are looking to penetrate the market. Caution must be given because any changes made are likely to be more difficult to reverse and will have a long-term impact with no short-term solutions.

3.6  There is already evidence on the internet and various other forms of digital media of international students recommending for their peers to apply to other countries due to the Home Office's proposed changes. The affect of these changes on recruitment should not be underestimated given that simply the uncertainty has been off-putting. In addition, some of our Students' Unions have conducted surveys in which they asked whether the PSWV was a factor in their application to the UK- with incredibly strong results indicating that it most definitely was.


4.1  We believe that the Post Study route should be continued. Firstly, the MAC found no evidence that foreign students are taking jobs from UK students. In fact, international students fill many of the countries' skill gaps and help boost the UK's international competitiveness. Therefore, we argue that the removal of the Post-Study route will actually lead to further job losses both in the immediate and long term.

4.2  In addition, a potential change to the post-study work visa may send a message to international students that they were not welcome in the UK. This contradicts sharply with the PMI which wanted to make it easier for "talented international students to combine work and study here." The PSW Visa has been and continues to be the backbone for the scale of international recruitment that universities maintain. Any change will make the UK significantly less attractive in the international market for education.

4.3 As a minimum, students already studying in the United Kingdom should not be impacted. These students have already invested heavily in their choice to study in the United Kingdom and it would be both unfair for their welfare and damaging to the international reputation of the United Kingdom to make any changes with such short-notice.


5.1  Overall, we believe that the HTS scheme has worked robustly for our institutions and these far-reaching changes should not apply to students at Russell Group institutions. As mentioned before, such changes that broadly target all students would certainly undermine the international competitiveness and research-output of the UK's leading universities.

5.2  In addition, the Russell Group attract a significant amount of international students from private sub-degree institutions within the UK. We would once again caution the approach of the Home Office to have proposals that are broad and would instead opt for proposals which target specific institutions and students prone to illegitimate behaviour.

5.3  We are against the proposal of the SELT. We do not believe that the UKBA should advise on academic issues, especially for the Russell Group. Furthermore, the UKBA has showed no evidence that students are lacking in English proficiency.

5.4  We do not believe that evidence should be shown of academic progression as we find this proposal unnecessarily harsh- especially for students who wish to switch particular subjects or disciplines.

5.5  We believe that the proposal that students must return home for any extension is incredibly harsh, would have a huge environmental impact in terms of increased carbon emissions and sets an unfair precedent for international students.

5.6  We have made our view of the removal of the PSWV quite clear. As a minimum, there should be a transition period for those already studying in the UK, but we advise against its removal- given the negative impact it will likely have on recruitment and its long-term economic impact.

5.7  The proposal to limit student's entitlements to work and sponsor dependents also seems exceptionally harsh- given that many of our doctoral and MBA students come to the UK with their families.

January 2011

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