Student Visas - Home Affairs Committee Contents


Written evidence submitted by the Migrants' Rights Network (MRN) (SV35)

MIGRANTS' RIGHTS NETWORK (MRN)

1.  The Migrants' Rights Network (MRN) was established in December 2006. We work to support migrant community organisations and organisations working with migrants, on issues related to employment, the community, access to public services, and on other matters which have consequences for migrants' rights and social justice. We work within a framework of discussion, sharing of experiences, promotion of research, policy analysis and lobbying and campaign activities. Currently over 2000 organisations and individuals participate in MRN's policy discussion and information exchanges.

INTRODUCTION AND SUMMARY OF SUBMISSION

2.  The recent set of proposals regarding international students released by the coalition government in December 2010 is situated within a broader objective—to significantly reduce the level of net immigration to the UK by 2015. International students make up the highest proportion of non-EU inflows into the UK, meaning that they are now a key target for restrictions. As with the cap on economic immigration to the UK, the prospect of turning this objective into practical policy changes has generated concern among those sectors likely to be most affected, as well as among migrant communities.

3.  If introduced, the measures proposed by the government in its latest consultation document would be significant; the majority of these proposals potentially affecting all international students coming to the UK by increasing the requirements for entry and restricting their rights when here. The importance of the current routes for international students for the UK economy, skills and research base and for international students themselves means that a strong evidence base should be offered up in order to support and guide these proposals. Currently, this evidence base simply does not exist. Instead the government has accompanied its new proposals with broad analysis of data in this area.[36] Although this analysis does provide some general information about international students in the UK, it is wholly inadequate support for the proposals which have been put forward.

4.  The proposed measures have additionally been accompanied by a growing distinction between "desirable" and "undesirable" international students, following on from government targeting of "abuse" in the student system. Below degree-level students are increasingly presented as undesirable and prone to abuse the system—this characterisation appears to enable the government to substantially restrict their numbers as an easy means of moving towards its goal of reducing overall net immigration. We think that, as yet, the government has not adequately made the case that students studying courses below degree-level, are in and of themselves more inclined towards breaking the immigration rules in the UK than those studying at degree-level—or that these courses are less important to the UK economy.

5.  The home office's own data indicates that incidents of "abuse" of the system are likely to be connected with a relatively small number of cases—we think often related to exploitative practices among some private institutions. As such, it would neither benefit British institutions or migrants themselves to prevent below degree-level study in the UK by making it the subject of overly severe restrictions. The focus of reforms would better be on tighter regulation of the educational sphere, leading to improved conduct by colleges themselves towards foreign students.

We address some of the specific concerns of the HASC inquiry below:

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

6.  The latest Home Office proposals particularly target below degree-level students—judged by the government to be at "higher risk of abusing" Tier 4 than further education students. The majority of below degree-level students find opportunities for study at public and privately funded institutions rather than universities. If implemented, the government's proposed measures would mean that most adults would no longer be able to apply to take below-degree level courses of more than six months in the UK under Tier 4—with the exception of those applying to courses run by a small number of institutions rated as "Highly Trusted Sponsors".

7.  There are substantial problems with presenting the majority of below degree-level students as undesirable. Below degree-level students are estimated by the home office to make up two-fifths of all adult foreign students, coming to the UK for a wide range of educational pursuits ranging from study in nursing, social care and other vocational courses, as well as professional diplomas, HND and technical qualifications. The indications are that there is substantial financial gain from these students to the education sector (although this data is generally not separated out from figures accounting for both degree and pre degree-level courses). The group representing the interests of leading colleges in the Further Education sector in the UK, the157 Group has set out its findings that the 66,500 international students on technical courses in FE colleges in England contribute £42 million to college budgets from fees alone.[37]

8.  Wider benefits are accrued from these courses, both for the UK and for students themselves. Below degree-level course qualifications gained in the UK are often well-regarded overseas, promoting the reputation of UK education abroad. Moreover, they play an important role in feeding students into the further education system in the UK. As such below degree-level courses often operate as a way for potential further education students to acclimatise to a new educational system, to improve their English or to gain foundation-level training before enrolling on degree-level courses in the UK. This is reported by some working in further education to have benefits for both the students and colleges, with foreign degree-level students able to perform and adapt to demands of degree-level study with greater ease.

9.  Despite the value of below degree-level students, the rationale behind potential restrictions is increasingly based on the perceived risk of "abuse" of the system among this group. However, existing data about the outcomes of migration for below degree-level students presented by the home office has not provided adequate support for this conclusion. Although the recent home office study "Overseas students in the immigration system" was used to demonstrate that they are more likely to break the rules when here than those coming to study at degree-level,[38] these findings fell far short of being conclusive. The report offered up estimates for numbers of foreign students viewed as "potentially non-compliant"—this figure actually referred to those students who could not be accounted for in other categories in the study. The actual figures relating to students who had broken the terms of their leave in the UK, and the circumstances in which this may have happened (ie was non-compliance intentional) remain unknown.

10.  We think that it is certainly likely that, in particular, some private colleges, under-regulated by the government, have engaged in exploitative practices which have led to migrants falling foul of the rules. Accounts we have received from, for example, within the Filipino community, indicate that there has been significant abuse of individual students coming to the UK by private colleges in order to study for below degree-level qualifications in Health and Social Care. Individuals entering the UK, having paid fees and with the full intention of studying here have reported then finding that their college is either not legitimately operational or has changed the rules, fees or requirements in order to exploit them. In order to build a more accurate and nuanced picture of the outcomes of below degree-level study for international students, there is a need for better data collection supplemented by wider qualitative research.

11.  In terms of the policy response, instead of preventing the majority of genuine students from taking below degree-level courses in the UK, serious steps should be taken to regulate private education institutions, and clamp down on the potential exploitation of international students. Although this has been referred to by the government in its current consultation, the lack of concrete steps that will be taken to regulate the sector do not reassure that this is a major focus for the government.

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

12.  In addition to the direct revenue gained from foreign students to the UK, (estimates of the value of international students to the UK economy range from £8.5 billion and £12.5 billion), there are much wider implications of reducing student visas for the UK. The openness of the UK higher and further education systems for global business has undoubtedly been important in maintaining its position as a significant global player. Research from the Work Foundation in 2008[39] points out the importance of international students in building the UK's position in the global knowledge economy—for which there is considerable competition among OECD countries.

13.  Recent research from the New Economics Foundation supports this, pointing out that, although the UK is currently in a relatively privileged position as regards its international reputation for education, global trends are constantly in flux. NEF points out that, currently, 49 of the world's top 100 universities are identified as in the UK or USA.[40] The position of these universities within global rankings is highly competitive, and strongly related to the capacity of these countries to attract the strongest international students and research talent. In this regard, it is critical that countries can compete by offering favourable conditions for foreign students, including providing the possibility for further work at the end of their studies.

14.  The UK's wider economic relationships are also linked to its intake of foreign students, indicated by their key countries of. The latest figures from the UKCISA[41] indicate that the top countries of origin for international students to the UK are rapidly changing. In 1998 the top five countries of origin for students were Greece, Ireland, Germany, France and Malaysia. In 2007 the picture was quite different, with China, India, Ireland, the USA and Germany making up the top five countries of origin for international students—all countries with which the UK has an interest in maintaining a mutually beneficial relationship. The negative impacts of changes to the UK immigration system on international relations were demonstrated in late 2010, when the Indian government made its concern clear around the prospect of a UK cap on economic immigration.

15.  In addition to lucrative and high profile further education courses, it is important that below degree-level courses are not viewed as insignificant in terms of the UK's international standing. As outlined earlier, these courses are also likely to play a significant role in supporting the position of the UK internationally—both acting as a gateway for students into degree-level study, and by enabling people from a broad range of countries to engage with the UK educational system, and return with these skills to their country of origin.

Whether the post study route should be continued

16.  In addition to the direct revenue gained from foreign students to the UK, (estimates of the value of international students to the UK economy range from £8.5 billion and £12.5 illiobn), there are much wider implications of reducing student visas for the UK. The openness of the UK higher and further education systems for global business has undoubtedly been important in maintaining its position as a significant global player. Research from the Work Foundation in 2008 points out the importance of international students in building the UK's position in the global knowledge economy - for which there is considerable competition among OECD countries.[42]

17.  Recent research from the New Economics Foundation warn that, although the UK is currently in a relatively privileged position as regards its international reputation for education, the government should be careful not to jeopardise this through overly restrictive immigration policies. NEF points out that, currently, 49 of the world's top 100 universities are identified as in the UK or USA.[43] The position of these universities within global rankings is highly competitive, and strongly related to the capacity of these countries to attract the strongest international students and research talent. In this regard, it is critical that the UK can continue to compete with other global players by offering favourable conditions for foreign students coming to the UK.

18.  Wider economic relationships are also linked to the UK's intake of foreign students, indicated by the key countries of origin for foreign students. The latest figures from the UKCISA[44] indicate that the top countries of origin for international students to the UK are rapidly changing. In 1998 the top five countries of origin for students were Greece, Ireland, Germany, France and Malaysia. In 2007 the picture was quite different, with China, India, Ireland, the USA and Germany making up the top five countries of origin for international students—all countries with which the UK would wish to maintain a mutually beneficial relationship. The negative impacts of changes to the UK immigration system on international relations were demonstrated in late 2010, when the Indian government made its concern clear around the prospect of a UK cap on economic immigration.

19.  In addition to lucrative and high profile further education courses, it is important that below degree-level courses are not viewed as insignificant in terms of the UK's international standing. As outlined earlier, these courses are also likely to play a significant role in supporting the position of the UK internationally—both acting as a gateway for students into degree-level study, and by enabling people from a broad range of countries to engage with the UK educational system, and return with these skills to their country of origin.

FURTHER COMMENTS

20.  Overall, we are disturbed by the proposed major changes to current policy, which remain unsupported by adequate evidence, and in pursuit of an overall reduction in net immigration to the UK. This goal is, in itself, aimed at reducing long-term immigration to the UK, with wider concerns about population growth vocalised by advocates of this goal. There is a case to be made that, if the government's primary concern is with long-term settlement, it is inappropriate to include international students in this calculation. The recent home office research paper "The Migrant Journey" found that only 3% of those entering the UK in 2004 as students later applied for settlement. This may be viewed as undermining the inclusion of student's in the government consideration of net immigration.

January 2011



36   See www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/sitecontent/documents/aboutus/reports/pbs-tier-4/overseas-students-report.pdf?view=Binary and rds.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs10/horr43c.pdf Back

37   www.157group.co.uk/files/colleges_international_contribution.pdf Back

38   www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/sitecontent/documents/aboutus/reports/pbs-tier-4/overseas-students-report.pdf?view=Binary Back

39   www.theworkfoundation.com/assets/docs/publications/30_globalisation.pdf Back

40   Figure attained by NEF from Times Education World University Rankings, available at:

www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/hybrid.asp?typeCode=438 Back

41   www.ukcisa.org.uk/about/statistics_he.php Back

42   www.theworkfoundation.com/assets/docs/publications/30_globalisation.pdf Back

43   Figure attained by NEF from Times Education World University Rankings, available at:

www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/hybrid.asp?typeCode=438 Back

44   www.ukcisa.org.uk/about/statistics_he.php Back


 
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Prepared 25 March 2011