The Student Immigration System in Scotland

Written evidence submitted by Edinburgh Napier University

Executive summary

1. Edinburgh Napier University is pleased to submit views to the Scottish Affairs Committee’s inquiry on the student immigration system and Scotland.

2. The Student Immigration System: A Consultation was published by the UK Borders Agency on 7 December 2010 and as a major recruiter of international students, Edinburgh Napier University responded to this consultation. Our response was broadly aligned with the responses from both Universities UK and Universities Scotland and in particular referred to issues that we believe are of specific concern to the education sector in Scotland.

3. The Home Secretary has subsequently announced a series of measures following that consultation and we await the detailed changes to the Immigration Rules which will be published on 31 March 2011. This announcement addressed some of the concerns raised by Edinburgh Napier University and others. However, some concerns remain and we highlight these in this submission.

4. In particular we stress the importance of international students to Scotland, the Scottish economy and Scotland’s universities given the key differences between Scotland’s and England’s socio-demographic and skills profile. In that context we highlight the value of the Post-Study Work option for international students. Although the Home Secretary has announced that graduates will be able to switch to Tier 2 we believe that the closure of Post-Study Work from April 2012 may nonetheless have a detrimental effect on universities’ ability to recruit international students and on the supply of skilled labour to the Scottish economy.

5. It is our view that international students should not be part of the process of setting net migration targets. The vast majority leave at the end of their studies and those who stay and work in the UK are an economic asset. While we welcome the fact that the most potentially damaging proposals in the UKBA consultation did not form part of the Home Secretary’s recent announcement, this followed significant and sustained lobbying by universities, governments, businesses and others to support the recruitment of genuine international students to study at our universities. It is evident that the UK Government has not ruled out further tightening of the Tier 4 visa rules in future. There is therefore a need for those concerned with the sustainability of Scottish higher education and the contribution it makes to the Scottish economy to remain vigilant regarding the development of immigration policy for students over the coming years.

Evidence to the Inquiry

1. How the proposal to reduce the number of international students/ proposals on Post-Study Work might impact upon Scotland/ the wider economy in Scotland.

i. The vast majority of international students in Scotland are here legitimately to benefit from our world renowned teaching. Each year in Scotland they contribute approximately £188 million in tuition fees – a vital source of private income for universities – and spend another £231 million in the wider community.

ii. The Scottish economy benefits from having international universities which produce graduates whose skills and outlook have been enhanced by the experiences, perspectives and ideas brought by international students. The links established between overseas students and Scotland enhance the nation’s standing overseas and often lead to new business partnerships after students have returned to their home country. Some take advantage of the post-study work route and directly contribute to sustainable economic growth here in Scotland.

iii. There is a strong argument for a more flexible immigration policy for Scotland (analogous to the Fresh Talent initiative) to improve the prospects for long-term economic growth: addressing the demographic challenge, and enhancing the skills profile of the population. Recent population projections forecast a continuing decrease of 2% in overall numbers for the 25 year period – 2008 / 2033. During the same period the projected increase in population over the age of 75 years is set to rise by 84%. Set against this background we believe it is vital to maintain some flexibility in the immigration policy for Scotland. Our response to the UKBA consultation suggested the use of HTS status to enable such flexibility.

iv. The Post-Study Work route within Tier 1 is also a valuable route for international graduates to build on their academic experience with a period of work. It has been a very useful part of the offer to international students and has helped to create positive views of the UK among prospective students. At Edinburgh Napier we have already seen evidence to suggest the proposal (now decision) to close this route is having an impact on the thoughts of potential students and their families.

v. The decision to close the Tier 1 Post-Study Work route from April 2012 may make the UK offer less attractive to international students. While the change leaves graduates with a suitable job offer the opportunity to switch into Tier 2, there is a suggestion that a cap may be introduced on post study workers in the future if the government deemed it necessary. In addition, Tier 2 requires that migrants must be paid at least £20,000 or the appropriate rate set out in the relevant code of practice (whichever is higher). We believe this is unrealistic for a number of career paths which require graduate-level skills but do not offer starting salaries at that level. In all of these respects there is a potential particular impact on Scotland.

vi. In our response to the UKBA consultation, Edinburgh Napier University suggested the following in relation to the Post-Study Work issue:

· The introduction of an alternative arrangement for Scotland which provides international graduates with the opportunity to work and contribute to the Scottish economy for a time period after graduation. We believe this would recognise the socio-demographic and economic arguments that have been put forward from a number of sources;

· The introduction of an alternative arrangement for graduates from HTS institutions which provides international graduates with the opportunity to work and contribute to the UK economy for a time period after graduation;

· The availability of Post-Study Work opportunities to be available to graduates at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

vii. We note that there has been some concession on the timescale for the withdrawal of the Post-Study Work visa. However, the April 2012 date will still impact on a number of international students who are already in the country and who chose to study here in the knowledge of the possibility of applying for a 2 year Post-Study Work visa.

2. The impact, if any, that the proposals might have on universities in Scotland.

i. Each year in Scotland, international students contribute approximately £188 million in tuition fees – a vital source of private income for Universities. Edinburgh Napier currently has over 1,500 international students studying on-campus in Edinburgh, and these students contribute in the region of 12-14% of our income.

ii. It is unclear how a reduction in overall student visa numbers, if that were the outcome, will fit with institutions’ plans for growth in international student numbers, arising in part from planned growth but also from an increased need for alternative sources of income following current and future reductions to income from the public purse.

iii. The recruitment of international students is increasingly competitive and increasingly global in its dimension. Countries such as China are looking to establish themselves as net importers of students, while countries in Europe are offering degrees in English precisely to attract international students. The changes to the Post-Study Work route remove an attractive part of the UK offer to international students and potentially disadvantage universities’ ability to recruit international students in that competitive global marketplace.

iv. We welcome the changes announced by the Home Secretary to some of the proposals in the UKBA consultation which would have been particularly damaging to institutions: particularly in relation to English language requirements, the recognition of pathways, partnerships and progression in Higher Education, and strengthening of Highly Trusted status for institutions. These changes were secured through a significant lobbying campaign by universities, governments and businesses and the arguments made will continue to be relevant as immigration policy evolves and is reviewed over the coming years.

3. How the proposals might impact differently upon international students wishing to study on courses below degree level, at degree level and at postgraduate degree level.

i. Edinburgh Napier does not currently offer provision below degree level (below SCQF level 7) to international students. However, our main concern has been to ensure that progression routes from other parts of the education sector into higher education are not restricted by changes to the Tier 4 regulations. For example, our partnership with Scotland’s Colleges provides an important route for current and future international student progression to Edinburgh Napier University.

ii. Pathways and pre-degree programmes are also a very important route of entry of overseas students into UK Universities. Edinburgh Napier works in partnership with Navitas through the Edinburgh International College (EIC). The EIC will offer pathway programmes into our undergraduate Business and Computing degrees and a pathway to postgraduate programmes will also be available. We view the development of this pathway as a vital step in our international student recruitment strategy which will enable international students to progress from the pathway to a degree programme.

iii. We welcome the fact that the UK government has decided to allow universities to directly sponsor students on pathway programmes. Throughout our response to the UKBA we have suggested that Highly Trusted status is a powerful tool which, if used appropriately, could deal with a significant number of the issues raised by the UKBA. In the context of pre-degree level provision we believe there may be an opportunity to use the HTS status as a way of ensuring that high quality pathway and pre-degree provision can still be delivered successfully, either through the HTS institution or through a partner/branch arrangement.

iv. The issues impacting on degree and postgraduate level students are addressed in sections 1 and 2 above.

4. The level of compliance with the current system;

i. The UKBA’s own research has found higher levels of non-compliance in private institutions offering lower levels of provision, in sharp contrast to very low non-compliance rates of 2% in universities. Universities have robust processes in place to monitor student attendance and minimise the scope for abuse.

ii. Based on the information we have available we estimate that typically between 3% and 6% of our students have dependents on their Tier 4 visa. The main countries these students come from are India, China, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria, though that in part reflects that China and India are two of our biggest markets for all international students. Most of the students concerned are studying at the postgraduate level.

iii. We welcome the announcement by the Home Secretary that the there is to be no change to the number of hours a student can work during term time and vacations, and the entitlement of dependents to work.

March 2011