Student Visas - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by the University of Exeter Students' Guild (SV37)


1.1  University of Exeter Students' Guild (UESG) is the representative body of all students studying at the University of Exeter.

1.2  International students contribute a great deal to the financial and cultural economy at a local and national level.

1.3  Many of our students chose to study in the UK because of the opportunities afforded to them in the post study work route.

1.4  If this opportunity was not available, evidence suggests that many would choose to study in a different country.

1.5  UESG note the political pressure with regard to tackling migration, but recommend that bogus institutions are targeted, rather than honest students who contribute positively to the economy.

1.6  If the PSWV proposals go ahead, there would be negative consequences on the UK's standing in the educational and economic worlds. In making students return home on the completion of their course, the quality of research at UK universities will be adversely affected, as will the diversity of our higher education institutions.


2.1  The Students' Guild is the collective voice of students studying at the University of Exeter, representing the 17,000 students who study at the University. This brief paper outlines some of the concerns we have as an organisation regarding the proposals of the UK Border Agency (henceforth referred to as UKBA), specifically with regard to the proposals to abolish the post-study work route, and to ensure that students return overseas on the completion of their course. Whilst there are issues with some of the other proposals too, for the purposes of this submission to the Home Affairs Select Committee, only those with direct relevance to Tier 4 migration have been focussed upon.


3.1  There has been a steady increase in the number of International students studying at the University of Exeter, and the University has a strong Internationalisation agenda. Concerns have been raised about the proposals our representative channels. A survey into how students felt about the UKBA's proposals was completed by 173 international students, nine EU students and 15 UK students. There are students from 130 different nationalities at the University of Exeter, and the Students' Guild believes that this diversity contributes to the overall benefit of each and every student here, whether UK, EU or non-EU.


4.1  Abolishment of Post Study Work Visa (PSWV)

4.1.1  90.8% of International students indicated that they chose to study in the UK because they hoped to work under this route.

Without this incentive, many students stated that they would have considered alternative countries for study opportunities. This is evidenced fully in Appendix 1.1.4,[52] and characterised in the following quotes:

  • "It was one of the most determining elements in my choice of studying in UK instead of other Western countries, because it sounds like a symbol of best socio-professional integration."
  • "If there is no post-study work scheme in the UK, I will choose to study in the United States."
  • "It was the most important factor for me [when choosing to study in the UK]. Post study work visa promise was the only reason I chose UK over other international education destination. In my opinion if the post study work visa is withdrawn then the international student number will get dramatically reduced".

4.1.3  Many students indicated qualitatively that they considered paying to come to the UK an investment, because of the opportunities to gain experiences afforded to them by the PSWV and felt cheated by the proposal to abolish this route. Examples of this can be found in Appendix 1.1.3,[53] but particularly poignant are two responses highlighted below:

  • "If I cannot work here in the UK, the only option I have is to go back home to the US. I came to the UK to study with the intention of gaining a couple of years of international work experience after graduation and now it looks like they're changing that. It would've been nice to know before I agreed to give them my international tuition that they were just going to cut me off."
  • "I came here only because its a one year MBA and the post study work visa is provided. I will definitely feel cheated if they take it out. They should have informed us prior to this years admissions."

4.1.4  Also evidenced in Appendix 1.1.3 is the fact that abolishment of the PSWV would have severe implications for highly qualified graduates wanting to conduct research or take up teaching posts in the UK.[54] Two example responses are again given below:

  • "I plan very much to stay on in the U.K. after my PhD and work with a private sector or university as a post-doctoral researcher. My boyfriend is British, and we don't want to be pushed into getting married just because I cannot find a way to stay in the country. It is very disappointing...I have certainly given a lot back to the University in terms of over a hundred hours of teaching/demonstrating a year, team development leading for first year undergrads, as well as the original research I produce which is significant enough to be funded by two different U.K. funding bodies."
  • "I'm planning to continue with an employed position for a PhD. For two reasons, I need founding [sic] for the PhD, and have a pending loan for the Masters I'm currently taking. If no work opportunities are provided, I won't be able to get a PhD and I will need to leave academia..."

4.1.5  International students contribute a huge amount to the UK economy. A recent report from the Nottingham Business School and the Association of Business Schools estimates that Business Schools in the UK (containing an extremely high proportion of international students)[55] generate £2 billion in direct income for the UK economy, with a direct impact of some £7.5 billion annually. The proposals put forward by the UKBA seemingly fail to account for the deficit that would be caused if they were to be enacted.

4.1.6  International students studying at the University of Exeter contribute over £57 million to Exeter's GDP at current prices and support over 2,100 jobs or 2.3% of all jobs in the city.[56]

4.1.7  Many students noted that they wanted to make use of the PSWV to gain essential skills and knowledge through working, before returning to their own country. This is a fundamentally important opportunity for many of our international students (see appendix 1.1.3):[57]

  • "I thought I could come to a developed country and study with the hope of getting an advanced working experience for the next two years, before returning to my home country. Right now, I will have to change the plan and return to my country or better still some other country with less stringent regulations as the UK".
  • "I did not have any plans to stay here after my studies when I was coming Exeter for my education. But from last year I started to realize that I should stay here for three to four years to get professional experience in my field of study. After these regulations, I am not very hopeful. In my country, we don't have good labs to go back and learn more advancement. So, I was hoping to get more expertise here and then go back to introduce advance research tools in my field".

4.2  Ensuring students return overseas after their course

4.2.1  Requiring students to return overseas at the end of their course to reapply, when they already have an offer to start a course next year makes continuing to study in the UK both complicated and expensive.

4.2.2  It is anticipated that instead of re-applying to the UK, students forced to return to their home country in order to apply for a new visa would direct their attentions towards alternative countries, depriving the UK of substantial skills, knowledge and research. See appendix for additional evidence,[58] but also note the following statements:

  • "If forced to leave, I would not return...I can take a hint".
  • "UKBA, please ask yourselves this question; 'If I were an international student, with skills that 'society' and industries deem 'high', 'useful', etc, would I finish my degree, go back home just to apply for a Masters, come back to the UK and then leave soon after I finish my Masters?'"

4.2.3  Ultimately, if this aspect of the proposals was to go through, there would be negative implications for universities, in terms of the UK's standing in the world, and the level of research and skill currently afforded to the UK by international students.  


5.1  The PSWV is not abolished

5.1.2  As evidenced above, the PSWV acts as a significant incentive for international students to come and study in the UK. The Students' Guild believes that without this opportunity being afforded to International students, many of those hoping to study abroad would take their skills, and money, to alternative destinations, such as Australia and Canada. Diversity is a huge part of the University experience for our members, and it would be a mistake to abolish this attractive incentive.

5.2  Regardless of changes to the PSWV, it is available for application in its current format to any students who applied to study in the UK under the impression that this route would be available.

5.2.1  91.3% of international students who study here at Exeter (as indicated by our survey) came here intending to follow the post study work route upon finishing their course. These students considered the ability to work in the UK as a huge incentive to attend Exeter University. Abolishment of the PSWV would represent an extreme injustice, and betrayal of trust for these students.

5.2.2  Thus, if the PSWV is to be abolished, we recommend that it is phased out over a number of years. This should be a last resort (see section 5.1) and should not affect any students applying with the post study work route as an option.

5.3  Students are not required to return overseas after their course if they plan to extend their studies in the UK.

5.3.1  We view this as a bureaucratic and pointless exercise that would discourage highly qualified students from returning to the UK to further their studies.


The University of Exeter Students' Guild understands that there is significant political pressure to tighten the current immigration system up. However, there was nothing in the Coalition Agreement announcing a policy of reducing international student numbers, but rather to introduce a limit on the number of non-EU migrants.

We oppose fully any measures aimed exclusively at reducing student numbers merely to contribute to migration targets, rather than to target areas of abuse. Whilst there does indeed exist a specific problem with regard to bogus institutions helping immigrants to stay in the UK illegally, it is these "institutions" that must be targeted, and not innocent students, who are actually positively contributing to the UK economy. Moreover, many of these students wish to use the post study work route simply to gain valuable work experience before returning to their own country.

As an implication of this, we recommend that the post study work route remains an available option for international students in the UK, but note that if it is abolished, it is essential that it is phased out, rather than imposed retroactively on students currently studying here. Finally, we note that students should not be required to return overseas after their course if they plan to extend their studies in the UK.

January 2011

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55   Over half of international students who responded to the survey currently study in the Business School (51.8%). Back

56   Source: Oxford Economics in, "Establishing a Global Standing: University of Exeter Internationalisation Strategy". Back

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Prepared 25 March 2011