Student Visas - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by the University of East Anglia (UEA) (SV47)


  • Genuine students coming to the UK are an essential multibillion pound source of overseas earnings. In 2008 universities alone generated some £5 billion of income through tuition fees and other spending by students in the local economies. On completing their courses and returning to their own countries, students spread the influence of the UK in both business and government sectors. Students are not economic migrants or a drain on UK resources. Reducing legitimate student inflows into the UK will do extensive damage to the economy with the loss of thousands of jobs.
  • The statistical evidence for net migration taken from the International Passenger Survey is extremely unreliable. There is considerable evidence (including the Migration Advisory Committee's own report) that outflows of students are understated leading to exaggerations of both net migration and the contribution to that of those coming to study in the UK.
  • Study at undergraduate and postgraduate levels are key attractors of overseas students (with over 50% of visas being issued to university students). It is of considerable importance that the pre-sessional courses which provide English language and academic preparation for degree programmes (pathway programmes) are protected. They are an essential market sector in the recruitment of overseas students, and could be materially damaged by UKBA proposals to raise the threshold for English competence for all Tier 4 students, and to limit pre-sessional courses to 3 months. Such programmes should be exempt from a language threshold, from insistence on secure English language testing and any curtailment of pre-sessional course length where provided by Highly Trusted Sponsors (particularly in the university sector) and the associate colleges for which they vouch.
  • UKBA should seek to weed out abuse, but not at the expense of legitimate students coming to study. Providers with low standards of compliance should be targeted.


UKBA has issued the Consultation document (The Student Migration System) which seeks Inter alia to:

  • reduce net migration arising from Tier 4 (the study route); and
  • reduce further abuse of the Tier 4 system.

We, of course, support the objective of minimising abuse of the system by those seeking employment, rather than genuinely coming to study, but measures taken should not discourage or impact upon legitimate students entering the UK. We have grave concerns about an approach which seeks to reduce net migration through limiting student inflows as this would significantly damage one of the UK's most important export earners.


While many students may meet the definition of a migrant (those changing their country of residence for more than one year), they are not economic migrants, they contribute significant overseas earning to the UK economy, they are not a drain on UK resources and the vast majority return home at the end of their courses. In 2008/2009 international (ie non-EU) students in public sector higher education alone contributed some £2.2 billion in tuition fees and a further £2.8 billion in accommodation and other personal expenses (UUK report The Impact of Universities on the UK Economy). The UKBA Research Report 43 The Migrant Journey, shows that after five years only a small percentage (10%) of those who entered as students in 2004 remained in the country in work. Migration Watch UK which represents concerns over the scale of immigration, states in its own analysis that "it is important to realise that genuine students are not an immigration problem; most return at the end of their courses ...". With overseas students bringing so many benefits to the UK it is a market to be grown, and as such it is desirable that there are more overseas students entering the country in any year compared to those who have finished their courses exiting to return home.

The Consultation claims that, in 2009, the student route accounted for approximately 139,000 of a total net (non-EU) migration of 184,000. This is largely based on the International Passenger Survey (IPS) which surveys 0.2% of travellers, and is therefore subject to significant sampling errors as a consequence. Importantly, the Migration Advisory Committee Report "Limits on Migration" observes that the outflow of students completing their course and returning home as measured by the IPS is materially less than their own estimates. The statistical evidence is highly questionable and is likely to significantly over-state net migration and the contribution of the student route. However, if the logic of the Migration Advisory Committee Report is carried through in seeking to reduce net migration to "tens of thousands" you would reduce inflows of students by some 88,000 and prepare for extensive harm to the UK economy, to the financial security of all universities and for the loss of thousands of jobs. However, the Consultation itself leaves us in the dark on many of the issues with no clear assessment of the reductions being targeted, or of the costs, benefits and impacts of these proposals.


Whether the cuts should be limited to certain types of courses (e.g. pre-degree level). The education routes through which students come to the UK to study at degree level

From the standpoint of the economy, it is questionable whether reductions should be targeted at student migration at all. Rather, targeting those providers where a high level of non-compliance with visa regulations can be demonstrated would weed out abuse and impact on net migration.

However, if there are to be greater reductions, it is accepted by the government that undergraduate and postgraduate education are key sectors to protect. To this must be added the pre-degree courses (or pathway programmes) which are an important preparation for many students. Pathway programmes, which can be up to a year in length and provide both intensive academic English study and subject preparation for students who have come from education systems which provide one year less in formal education than the UK, enable students to reach a point where they can integrate effectively into study programmes with UK students at undergraduate or postgraduate level. It has been estimated that some 40% of the international entry to universities now comes through pathway programmes of various kinds, often provided by universities either directly or in partnership with others. These programmes will often bring students from a proficiency level in English below B2 up to the level generally required for degree programmes. Raising the English language threshold for student entry to B2 and limiting the length of pre-sessional courses to three months would exclude the UK from an entire segment of the market for degree students who will turn to our competitors in the US, Canada and Australia. A number of universities, including UEA, have made multi-million pound investments in the development of high quality facilities offering high quality teaching and pastoral care. Any damage to this market could prove catastrophic.

The impact different levels of cuts might have on the various sectors

The UKBA report Students in the Immigration System notes that 50% of confirmation of acceptance for studies at 31 August 2010, had been granted by universities. If reductions in inflows are targeted at levels higher than 50%, as widely reported following the publication of the Migration Advisory Committee Report, then clearly this sector would be damaged.

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

Those who have successfully studied in the UK, and benefited from their experience, return to their own countries and often progress to senior roles in business or civic society and look to the UK as a supplier of products and services and extend the influence of the UK abroad. If students are either not allowed, or are deterred from coming to the UK as a consequence of changes to the visa system, that impact is diminished.

There is significant anecdotal evidence that prospective students are concerned that the complex and constant changing of visa rules (this is the second major review in just over 12 months), and the nature of the current consultation is beginning to paint a picture that (contrary to the Prime Minister's recent statements) the UK is not welcoming of overseas students. Prospective restrictions on part time work, requirements for securing English language testing (which can be costly and difficult to access) and having to return home to apply for visas to progress to further study, make it increasingly difficult for students to progress through UK higher education.

Whether cuts in student visas would have an effect on the decisions of highly qualified graduates to conduct research or to take up teaching posts in the UK

The overall impression in the UK is not "open for business" will undoubtedly deter some of the brightest and the best from undertaking postgraduate study in the UK, and subsequently research and teaching posts. However, it is difficult to assess the extent of any impact. It is certainly the case that recently announced restrictions on Tier 1 and Tier 2 (work) visas will reduce the opportunities for highly qualifying graduates to take up employment in the UK.

Whether the post study route should be continued

The post study work route was introduced to increase the competitiveness of the UK in attracting undergraduate and postgraduate students. It seems inevitable that withdrawing the route will have an adverse affect, though the extent is difficult to quantify. The UKBA study The Migrant Journey would suggest that the post study route provides the opportunity to gain valuable experience as a springboard for returning home, as the study showed only 10% of students in employment in the UK five years after commencing their courses.


Making a significant deposit obligatory for students coming to study in the UK and making private health insurance obligatory for all will achieve more than raising thresholds for secure testing of applicants to B2. As the UKBA consultation makes clear many of the concerns around abuse are centred on regions where standards of English are traditionally high and changing thresholds are likely to be ineffective. A significant improvement in the UKBA systems which ensure a swift flow of data between UK and sponsors so that there is clarity when students enter the country, leave the country for a granted non-Tier 4 visa, would enable Highly Trusted Sponsors and UKBA to work together to ensure that abuse is rapidly identified and swiftly dealt with.


  • UKBA—the Student Migration System.
  • The Migration Advisory Committee—Limits on Migration.
  • UKBA—Overseas Students in the Migration System, Types of Institution and Levels of Study.
  • Home Office Research Report 43—The Migrant Journey

January 2011

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Prepared 25 March 2011