Student Visas - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Written evidence Memorandum submitted by million+ (SV57)

The international activities of UK universities represent an important success story. Universities across the UK higher education sector are engaged in a diverse range of successful and long-standing international activities. They currently teach over 350,000 international students in the UK and many more students studying in their home countries,[109] employ international staff who contribute to the knowledge and research base of the United Kingdom; work with international universities and business on collaborative research projects, work with overseas partners to transfer knowledge and expertise for financial benefit and to build capacity in developing countries. These activities are all parts of the UK's international education brand which has a strong reputation for quality around the world.

Universities and their international activities—including the teaching of international students - will play a key role in helping to deliver economic growth and UK's global competitiveness agendas. Income from teaching-related international activities alone represent one of the UK's fastest growing sources of export earnings and the contribution of international students to the UK economy via fees and living expenses was estimated at £5.3 billion in 2009. In turn this investment supports and generates significant employment and economic growth. The presence of international students makes some courses such as engineering and chemistry that have been identified as strategically important to the UK viable. International students also bring greater diversity and a broader range of experience to UK campuses and help foster the growth and development of links between the UK and overseas nations.

The Government has indicated that it is interested in the economic value of the international activities undertaken by UK universities. In September 2010, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) commissioned London Economics to establish a comprehensive estimate of the current total value of overseas trade and investment due to the UK Higher and Further Education sectors (including teaching, research, English language training and other training for adults, as well as businesses providing services to these sectors) and an estimate of the total value of the foreign direct investment that those sectors attract. The Government recognises that these international activities increase the UK's influence on the world stage and provide opportunities to attract revenue from overseas.[110]

Yet the proposed Tier 4 immigration changes risk significantly endangering the vital flow of international students to UK universities and have the potential to damage UK export earnings and the UK's global competitiveness. This brief written submission addresses three of the Tier 4 related issues that Home Affairs Committee is considering: sub-degree level programmes; progression by international students; and the post-study work route.

1.  There should be no blanket restrictions on applications for programmes below degree level but sub-degree level courses should be restricted to Highly Trusted Sponsor (HTS) institutions

A blanket restriction on applications for entry by international students to programmes below degree level would be highly undesirable. Many UK universities work with partner colleges to provide "sub-degree" level courses for international students that act as a stepping stone towards the successful completion of a full university degree. It is therefore vital that study "below degree" level continues to be permitted and that partnership institutions can continue to work with HTS institutions.

Restricting sub-degree level courses to HTS institutions would help ensure that genuine international students receive a quality education in the UK in institutions in which sound and consistent audit/inspection systems and publicly accountable quality assurance regimes are in place. The UK Border Agency should be more efficient and effective in processing of applications for HTS, the management of the HTS systems and the status and working of institutions in relation to HTS.

2.  Students wishing to study a new course should not be required to return home and apply from overseas

The current practice which allows international students to progress from one programme to another within the UK should be retained. Any requirement for international students studying at HTS institutions to return home and apply from overseas would dramatically decrease the likelihood of highly qualified international students returning to the UK to study.

In order to prevent misuse of the system, this should be limited to particular circumstances:

  • (i)  Students who successfully complete one course and progress to a new course within a defined period of time, for example, a student completing an undergraduate course and progressing to a postgraduate degree commencing within four months of first degree completion.
  • (ii)  Students who are dissatisfied with their course and/or institution: a student who would like to study a different course in the same institution or another should be allowed to switch to another sponsor or the same rated licence or above.

3.  The post-study work route should not be discontinued

The Post Study Work (PSW) route started with the Prime Minister's Initiative after 1998 and it has contributed to Britain becoming the second most attractive destination for international students after the USA. It is beneficial to business and the UK economy as a whole: graduates who have experienced working for UK businesses are more likely to regard UK business favourably and place orders or work with UK companies In the future.

Closure of PSW would also have a significant impact on the number of international students studying at UK universities and would put the UK at a disadvantage compared to its other HE competitors. Universities are already receiving reports from their Regional Offices that applicants are considering applying to universities in Canada and New Zealand for next year because they have adopted PSW policies. China Nursing Fund has advised that their members have started to consider countries other than UK as a result of the UK government's proposals to end PSW.

It would be much more effective if the Home Office/UKBA restricting the route to graduates from HTS institutions and considered how they could improve controls to ensure students leave the UK after completion of PSW rather than end the PSW route.

February 2011

109   In 2008-09, Million+ member institutions recruited over 54,000 students who study wholly outside the UK (21% in the EU) according to HESA data. They also recruited over 74,000 international students to study in the UK (including over 50,000 non-EU students). Back

110   BIS (2010) "Estimating the value to the UK of international education partnerships in higher and further education and research: call for expressions of interest". Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, 2010. Back

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Prepared 25 March 2011