Student Visas - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted University College London Union (SV41)

UCL Union welcomes the opportunity to feed in to the Home Affairs Select Committee Inquiry on student immigration. UCL Union is the representative body for students at University College London. UCL Union represents over 20,000 students; of whom 40% are postgraduate and 30% are from 130 countries outside the UK.

The below response is framed around the questions provided in the Home Office consultation document. Further evidence is available through our casework records upon request.

Do you think that all students using Tier 4 (General) category should have passed a secure English language test to demonstrate proficiency in English language to level B2 of the CEFR, in order to improve selectivity and to simplify the current system?

UCLU Response

We suggest that a student coming to do a degree course should be assessed solely by the Highly Trusted Sponsor as to whether they are suitable to do the course.

The Highly Trusted Sponsor, at degree level, is concerned with a variety of skills and attributes, including English language. The Border Agency ought to be able to trust HTS to assess the suitability of a particular individual.

We note that on page 9 of the UK Border Agency consultation document it states that only 2% of the sample were found to be non compliant. This implies that universities are well able to assess the suitability of a student to follow and participate in their studies.

Do you think that students from majority English-speaking countries, those who have been awarded a qualification equivalent to UK degree-level or above that was taught in English in a majority English-speaking country, and those who have recently studied in the UK as children should be exempt from any new language testing requirement?

UCLU Response


Do you think that students wishing to study a new course of study should be required to show evidence of progression to study at a higher level?

UCLU Response


A student may wish to do another course at the same or a similar level.

A student may wish to do a short course at a lower level to acquire a specific skill.

For instance, a skilled medical practitioner may wish to acquire an additional skill requiring a course of study at a level lower than their current academic qualification.

We do not think the Border Agency should determine whether a student can be permitted to do a particular course. This should be a matter of academic judgment.

There is already a three year time limit for courses below degree level.

Do you think that students wanting to study a new course should return home to apply from overseas?

UCLU Response


In many cases there may be insufficient time between published examination results and the start of the new course for the majority of students to travel "home" and back to the UK. This will particularly affect students from countries where Entry Clearance applications are processed in a "hub" in another country. For example, Japan's applications are processed in the Philippines.

Additionally, for those students wishing to move to university after completing A levels the time is less than six weeks.

What changes do you think we should make to the Tier 1 Post Study Work route?

UCLU Response


The table on page 14 of the consultation document shows that, with the exception of students from India, Pakistan and Nigeria, 75% of all students had left the UK within five years of starting their studies.

It is not clear which of those students who remain in the UK for more than five years are working, continuing their studies, or have switched to another immigration category.

The loss of the opportunities for students to gain professional qualifications and work experience will make the UK less attractive to potential university students. This will adversely affect the ability of UK universities to attract the best students. This is turn will tend to diminish the standing of world class universities such as UCL.

We are aware the some UCL students see the Post Study Work option as a part of the overall study package and use this option as a means to recoup some of the cost of obtaining a Degree. Without this option these students may be persuaded to seek a degree in another country.

The Tier 2 General option is less attractive than Tier 1 Post Study Work as it ties an individual to a specific employer and a specific role with that employer.

Do you think that we should restrict further the amount of work students should be allowed to undertake while studying?

UCLU Response


The Immigration Rules refer to employment rather than just work; further, the Immigration Rules include restrictions on both paid and unpaid employment including voluntary work or employment.

The opportunity to work option, including unpaid work, can help universities "link" with their local communities. Many international students work part-time within their university and/or students' union. The loss of this opportunity will tend to isolate international students. It will also prevent them from gaining other social and employability skills. We also believe that international students benefit from gaining experience of British culture in our communities.

If Tier 4 international students are able to work less, or differently, than UK/EEA/Swiss students this will create an additional administrative burden to constantly check the status of all students to ensure that none is working without the correct permission.

Do you think we should make it simpler for employers to understand the rules around student work, by limiting it to set times, except where they are working on campus?

UCLU Response


We fear that many employers will find the administrative workload too great and simply discriminate against international students. We have seen signs that some employers are asking potential employees for documentary evidence that international students are not able to produce as quickly as home students.

We are also aware that different programmes and institutions have very different timetabling practices for classes which would make it impossible to define set times when students can undertake employment work.

Do you think that the minimum ratio of study to work placement permitted should be increased from the current 50:50 to 66:33, except where there is a statutory requirement that the placement should exceed one-third of the total course length?

UCLU Response

The phrase "work placement" is ambiguous. Does it refer to a placement that is essentially of a work nature with minimal assessment or does it include well supervised training to ensure the student can implement the formal academic tuition? For example, if a medical student spends time in a GP practice observing how to apply medical knowledge to patient diagnosis is this to be construed as "work" or tuition?

The Immigration Rules require a work placement must be an assessed part of the course.

A reduction in the ratio from 50:50 to 66:33 might adversely affect some dental, medical and Architectural courses.

For some specialist courses it may be desirable that the work placement exceeds 50% of the course. We would argue that Highly Trusted Sponsors should be permitted to accept international students for any course at or above Bachelor's degree with a work placement totalling any percentage of the course.

The experience that our advice centre has gained in advising medical and dental students is that it can be very difficult to determine what a "work placement" is.

Do you think that only those studying for longer than 12 months should be permitted to bring their family members with them to the UK?

UCLU Response

There is no justification given for the concerns mentioned in the consultation document about family members. The number of family members coming to the UK is not as significant as the consultation implies. The 30,000 members quoted will include children as well as spouses.

There are human rights issues involved if international students are to be treated less favourably than a comparable UK/EEA student. Currently international students coming to the UK for more than six months can bring family members with them. Six months is a long time to be separated from immediate family.

The loss or interruption of family life will tend to make the UK less attractive to potential university students. This will adversely affect the ability of UK universities to attract the best students. This is turn will tend to diminish the standing of world class universities such as UCL.

Do you think that family members permitted to accompany the student should be prohibited from working?

UCLU Response

Currently employment is prohibited for family members if the student's course is below degree level or if the student's course is for less than a 12 months.

We see no reason to change these restrictions.

Do you agree that differential requirements for high and low risk students should be adopted?

UCLU Response

Whilst this might be acceptable if the basis of differentiation is between Highly Trusted Sponsors and other sponsors it would not be acceptable if nationality was used.

Do you believe that we should focus on the abuse of documentary evidence for maintenance and/or qualifications as the basis of differential treatment?

UCLU Response


The solution to the real problem lies in better and more thorough verification of documents used in Entry Clearance applications.

Please see the next question below.

Do you believe that we should also, or alternatively look at the sponsor's rating as a basis for differential treatment?

UCLU Response


We think it is reasonable for the Border Agency to place its trust in Highly Trusted Sponsors.

Perhaps the Tier 4 Sponsors' rating should be considered first and additional verification of documentary evidence can be done in circumstances where it is desirable.

Do you think that more should be done to raise accreditation and inspection standards to ensure the quality of education provision within private institutions of further and higher education for Tier 4 purposes?

UCLU Response

The consultation document is ambiguous about the meaning of the phrase "private institution". If by "private" the Border Agency means institutions that are not funded by Government then we are not able to comment.

In the light of the proposals described in this document, what do you think will be the main advantages/disadvantages, including any financial impacts, to you, your business or your sector?

UCLU Response

Some of the proposals may make the UK less attractive to the best of international students. This will tend to diminish the ability of UK universities, including UCL, to attract high calibre students. International students make an important contribution to the cultural diversity of the overall student experience; any further restrictions in international recruitment would have a detrimental effect on this diversity. This, in turn, may diminish the "world class" standing of the UK's top universities.

This, in turn, may diminish the UK's standing as a world class nation.

January 2011

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 25 March 2011