The Student Immigration System in Scotland

Written evidence submitted by the University of St Andrews

Executive Summary

1. The University of St Andrews is worried that the current proposals from the UKBA, concerning changes to the Tier 4 Student Visa route will adversely affect our ability to recruit a diverse international student body.

2. Scottish students in St Andrews benefit from being part of an international community of over 120 different countries, broadening their understanding of the international possibilities available to them. At St Andrews, international research students make up over 35% of the total research student population and are a very significant contributor both to the intellectual creativity of Scottish universities and to the business and entrepreneurial success of the country.

3. International students are also important to the financial sustainability of Scottish universities and make a major contribution to the wider economy. Universities Scotland estimates that the international student market is now worth over £0.5bn in export income to Scotland.

4. The proposed curtailments of universities’ entrepreneurial ability to recruit and retain high quality overseas learners together with proposed funding cuts will have a very damaging effect on Scottish universities’ capacity to offer a high-quality student experience to the full range of learners who wish to study in Scotland.

5. We are concerned that the UKBA consider university students as part of the immigration ‘problem’. Whilst the UN counts students studying for over a year as migrants, the majority of university students are highly compliant with visa requirements, and only those that have spent an excessive amount of time in the country, or those seeking settlement should actually be considered as migrants.

6. Finally we are concerned that the data used in assessing migration figures are not fit for purpose and may inhibit effective policy making.

The impact on Scotland of the proposal to reduce the number of international students

7. Population growth is critical to Scotland’s stated ambition of continued economic growth. Details provided by Universities Scotland as part of the recent UKBA consultation exercise suggest that in general, Scotland’s population growth performance has lagged behind UK growth in recent decades, and that Scotland will experience a significant demographic shift over the next couple of decades leading to an increase in the average age of the Scottish population and an increase in the number of persons of pensionable age.

8. Given this demographic situation there is a real and distinct Scottish requirement for student migration which needs to be addressed in a flexible and regionally sensitive manner.

9. Scotland has been fortunate to have experience of the former Fresh Talent initiative, which recognised that there are parts of the UK where the economic and intellectual contribution of highly talented overseas graduates is welcome, and even desirable. The introduction of a single, one-size-fits-all approach, which doesn’t recognise the regional differences would potentially have a significant effect on the ability of firms in Scotland to recruit and retain staff with specialised skills and attributes.

The impact on universities in Scotland

10. Year on year we see a significant increase in the number of overseas applicants, at St Andrews we have students from over 120 different countries around the world. Scotland is rightly regarded as a high quality destination of choice for many undergraduate and postgraduate students across the globe. These students make a significant contribution to the diversity and cultural awareness of the student body and to the wider community, many through student societies with the aim of raising awareness and promoting language and culture.

11. Scottish Universities compete on a global scale, with direct competitors in the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Europe. The proposed changes to the arrangements regarding Post Study Work will put Scottish Universities at a direct and significant disadvantage to HEIs in these competitor nations where appropriate and less restrictive systems are in place for the majority of policies where changes are being proposed by the UKBA.

The impact on the wider economy in Scotland

12. International students are absolutely vital to the long term financial sustainability of the University of St Andrews and other Scottish universities. For academic year 2010/1 non-EU students made up over 30% of the total student population at the University of St Andrews. International students make a very significant contribution to the wider economy through wider social and non-fee spending on top of the overall economic impact of the university in terms of student, tourism, commercial and direct spends.

13. The 2009 study by the University of Strathclyde ‘Making an Impact: Higher education and the economy’ estimated that the £188m (16.5% of overall university teaching income) contributed by international students to Scottish universities in 2007/08 drove a further £231m of off-campus expenditure by these students. Universities Scotland estimate that given recent growth in the international student population and the effect of inflation, the international student market is now worth over £0.5b in export income to Scotland.

14. At a local level, an independent report into the economic impact of the University of St Andrews has estimated that the value of these international students is £0.57million directly in St Andrews, and £2.8 million across Scotland supporting 160 full time equivalent jobs. (Source: Economic Impact of the University of St Andrews, BiGGAR Economics (2010))

The impact upon international students wishing to study on courses in Scotland below degree level, at degree level and post-graduate level

15. The government’s proposal to impose a maximum time limit of 5 years on any student visas will have a more profound impact on Scottish universities than those elsewhere in the UK. The existence of the four-year undergraduate honours degree as the standard across Scotland has significant implications for enabling students to complete an undergraduate-masters pathway in Scotland. Degree options with an integrated year abroad or industrial placement, and all integrated masters programmes (such as MChem, MSci, MPhys, etc.) are five years alone, allowing no flexibility for re-sits or legitimate extensions let alone following these programmes with a one year masters . Any proposals to limit the amount of time a student may study within the UK must recognise the different standards within the separate HE sectors.

16. The proposed conditions on dependents will also have a significant and deleterious impact on the ability of Scottish Universities to attract and recruit excellent postgraduate students, who have the most significant long-term intellectual contribution to make to the country. Any changes to the conditions surrounding dependents must differentiate at level of programme as well as length. These postgraduate students are the very ones being actively sought by competitor nations with less restrictive conditions in place. Many masters programmes are not a year in length so these students will not be able to bring dependents.

 

17. The proposals do not take account of the large numbers of students who initially enter Scottish HEI's through pre-University language programmes and foundation programmes, both of which provide important and well-recognised pathways for international students.

The impact upon Scotland of the proposals on post study work

18. The Post Study Work route is a very valuable asset in recruiting international students, increasingly at Masters level and in particular for business, management and economics students where an expected outcome of the degree is the ability to conduct business in English. The PSW route allows graduates to practise their English language in a work environment, an essential of the package we have been marketing. Removing this option will put UK HEIs at an immediate disadvantage against our key competitors in the US, Canada and Australia.

19. One of the key selling points of our programmes is the issue of employability, something we take very seriously. Cutting off this important opportunity will significantly affect our ability to deliver this attribute to international students, making UK degrees far less attractive.

20. The CIHE report "Global Horizons: recruiting students and graduates from UK universities" (2009) recommends the Government recognise the value that international students bring to the UK, our universities, the economy and society and raise awareness of this value. The report also recommends clearer guidelines for employers and recruiters in relation to employing international graduates. Finally it recognises the needs of some professions or those who offer occupational training programmes and recommends additional flexibility in the rules around the Post Study Work route. We support these recommendations and recognise the importance of the Post Study Work route for our graduates.

21. International students remaining in the country and working under the PSW route provide a significant boost to the local and national economy. An independent report into the economic impact of the University of St Andrews has estimated that the value of these international students is £0.57million in directly in St Andrews, and £2.8 million across Scotland supporting into 160 full time equivalent jobs. (Source: Economic Impact of the University of St Andrews, BiGGAR Economics (2010))

22. In terms of the timing of any proposed changes and our responsibility to our current cohort, we believe there is an obligation to provide a level of protection; these students were recruited with the understanding that the Post Study Work route would be available to them on successful completion of their programmes, and as such any changes should be scheduled to reflect this.

The level of compliance with the current system and

1) the number of those applying to study

2) the number of dependants accompanying students

3) the rules governing work entitlement for students and dependants

4) the rules governing work entitlement after a course has finished, in Scotland; and

23. As a Highly Trusted Sponsor our students are subject to scrutiny and monitoring from the moment they apply for a Certificate of Acceptance of Studies. We have excellent systems in place to ensure compliance with all aspect of the scheme, and are not aware of any abuse of the Tier 4 route within our systems and processes.

Alternative proposals, not included in the Student Immigration System consultation, which might control the number of international students entering Scotland more effectively.

24.  We are mindful of the issue of net economic migration and the Government's need to tighten border control policies, but we maintain that international students studying at UK Universities are not economic migrants, and as such should not form part of the Government's response to this issue.

25. We recommend that the Government recognise and reaffirm Highly Trusted Sponsors' rights and responsibilities towards monitoring and policing their own applicants in terms of progression through academic levels and in requiring appropriate levels of English language skills, rather than impose inflexible and restrictive burdens on HEIs. We are happy to work with the UKBA to ensure that the overarching aims of recruiting the best students to study in the UK, and delivering a simplified, accessible system are achieved whilst addressing some of the examples of abuse which are currently present.

26. In Scotland, in particular, all universities are identified as fundable bodies in the Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 2005. Furthermore they are subject to regular and rigorous scrutiny by various bodies including the Higher Education Statistics Agency, the Scottish Funding Council and the Quality Assurance Agency Scotland. Taken together, these represent a significant level of oversight and accountability, and should be recognised as providing a sound basis for the Highly Trusted Sponsor scheme.

27. There are also opportunities to extend the use of the student visitor visa, as a viable route for those studying pre-degree programmes, which we believe should be investigated further. Sub degree programmes are a significant and important pathway to further study in Scotland, and the means to provide this high quality introduction and foundation to the Scottish degree system needs to be allowed to continue and flourish to ensure that all learners have the opportunity to achieve in their chosen degree programmes.

March 2011