Student Visas - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by the University of Sunderland (SV58)


International students are vital to the health and strength both of the UK university sector, and the UK economy overall. The UK is a global leader in the recruitment of international students—second only to the US. This is a vital component of the UK's ability to compete effectively in the global knowledge economy, and to drive the economic growth that the UK needs.

The global growth opportunity in relation to international students is significant. If the UK is able to hold market share in a global market which is growing by 7% per year, by 2030 there could be more than one million additional international students in the UK. A conservative estimate suggests that this could be worth around £5 billion to the UK, with potentially 35,000 additional academic jobs, and 45,000 support staff jobs created.[111]

The international activities of universities contribute around £5.3 billion to the UK economy. This includes the fees that are paid directly to universities from international students, as well as the additional spending from students and families which benefits the economy. In addition, it is estimated that international students generate around £3.26 billion knock-on output for the UK economy.[112] The potential exists to double the income from this source over the next 5-10 years, significantly improving the UK's overall balance of trade.

Universities have made plans to increase their numbers of international students over the five-year period from 2008-09 to 2012-13 (the latest years for which plans are available). These plans indicate a projected increase in full-time international students of around 38,000, or 23% over this period. Income from international students is projected to increase by £661 million over this period, an increase of around 37%. These projections are likely to have been altered in the most recent forecasts, in the light of the increasing importance of international activities, and the changes to funding for UK and EU students.

Having a global network of alumni who studied at Britain's universities significantly increases our soft power and influence abroad. When combined with the economic impact, international student mobility becomes an extremely powerful tool to increase the UK's global reach and leverage.


We do not believe that students should be counted as economic migrants. They are not in the UK for economic reasons, their time in the UK does not count towards any later application for settlement, unlike workers, and they have no recourse to public funds. This remains our overall policy goal.

The following points are important:

The International Passenger Survey (IPS) data on which the UK Border Agency's (UKBA) data estimates are based are unreliable. In particular, it is considered that they underestimate the outflow of emigrants from the UK.

Universities UK (UUK) will be working on sourcing alternative, more reliable data sources. These comprise data from Higher Education Statistics Agency, the Home Office's visa records, and eBorders passenger flight mandate data. It is very important that data can be shared between UUK and UKBA to support intelligent policy design.

The UK has some of the most internationalised universities among the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, with international students accounting for 14.7% of all higher education enrolments in 2008. For full-time postgraduate students, this figure rises to 44%. UK universities welcome students from over 190 countries.

There were 251,334 non-EU international students in UK Higher Education Institution's in 2008-09. Within this total, 144,784 were in the first year of study in 2008-09.

There were 95,995 students studying full-time at undergraduate level. There were 117,920 students studying full-time at postgraduate level.


A number of policy options are being considered by the Government to address the issue of student immigration and perceived abuse of the existing Tier 4 route[113]. These include:

  • Raising the level of courses students can study under Tier 4 largely to degree-level courses and child students. Only Highly Trusted Sponsors will be permitted to offer courses below degree level to adults.
  • Introducing tougher entry criteria for students including raising the level of English language competence from level B1 to B2.
  • Ensuring students return overseas after their course by i) closing Tier 1 Post Study Work and ii) requiring that students wishing to remain in the UK to complete further study after their initial course will have to show clear evidence of academic progression.

Important points to consider in respect of the proposals include:

Dealing with abuse of the system: there is very little of this in the university sector (estimated non-compliance in the university sector is around 2% of students) but we are committed to eliminating it.

Feeder colleges: there is a strong policy drive to restrict access for international students at institutions offering provision below university level. However, this ignores the complex partnership arrangements which universities have with a wide range of pathway providers. It is thus extremely important to differentiate between those students attending feeder colleges who intend to progress to a UK university, and those who have no such intention.

Highly-Trusted Sponsor (HTS): HTS status is a powerful policy tool which, if used appropriately, could potentially deal with a lot of the issues of concern to UKBA.

English language requirement: we believe that HTS institutions should be able to determine their own language requirements, since that is a matter of academic judgement. Between 30 and 50% of international students joining university programmes prepare for study by taking a range of preparatory programmes in the UK, run by universities or in partnership with other providers in the UK.

Post-study Work Route: we believe this route needs further analysis, as opposed to outright closure at this stage. It is a valuable route for international graduates to build on their academic experience with a period of work.


For the 2010-11 academic year the University of Sunderland has 2,100 international students studying on campus. These students bring an income to the University of £15 million in tuition fees and £1.5 million in accommodation fees. The students also have a major economic impact within the City where many students live in private rented accommodation and also spend on their daily living costs. It is estimated that the additional income to the city is around £10 million per year. The total income to the City as a whole is therefore over £25 million per year.

The proposals will not only impact on the University itself but will also impact on businesses within Sunderland such as retail, private accommodation etc.

The proposed changes to the Tier 4 student visa regime, which are currently under consideration, will severely harm the numbers of students wishing to come to study in Sunderland. The city, and cities across the whole of UK, will become less attractive as a chosen place of study. Students will instead chose to study in countries such as Australia, USA, Germany and other European nations.

In particular, the proposals do not allow visas for sub degree level programmes, where students then feed into degree programmes and the removal of the Post Study Work Visa are particularly harmful.

Although it is difficult to be precise, the new Tier 4 regime could result in a 25% reduction in the number of international students coming to study in Sunderland, with an annual economic impact on the city of around £6 million.

One of the key propositions of the proposal is that Tier 4 should make a contribution towards the reduction in migration to the UK. However, this migration is not permanent and this goes against the aim to grow the number of international students studying in the UK.

February 2011

111   Source: From Austerity to Prosperity, McKinsey Global Institute, November 2010. Back

112   Source: The impact of universities on the UK economy, Universities UK, November 2009. Back

113   A full summary of the Tier 4 consultation proposals can be found on the UKBA website via the following link Back

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Prepared 25 March 2011