The Student Immigration System in Scotland

Written evidence submitted by the University of Stirling


Stirling is a medium-sized campus-based University with teaching sites in Stirling (the main campus), Inverness and Stornoway.

The total student population for the academic year 2010-2011 is around 12,000. Our current international student population [1] on long courses (excluding exchange and study abroad students and those on short courses) is around 1,600, the majority of whom are students subject to immigration control and studying on either an old-style student visa or a Tier 4 (General) visa.

Our population of long-term (one year or more) international students has grown from 3% of the total student population in 2001 to 13% of the total student population in the current academic year.

International students bring diverse cultural, linguistic and academic perspectives to our programmes of study and this diversity is a valuable part of University life for all our students and staff.

The fees paid by international students represent an important income stream for the University, especially in the current funding climate. Increasing international student recruitment is a key aspect of the University’s strategy for growth and development over the next few years.

International students studying at degree and postgraduate level form a significant income stream for the University. Students make an important contribution to the local economy through the purchase of goods and services including the letting of residential property and use of entertainment and leisure facilities. Some students are also employed part time by local businesses.

The University of Stirling has Highly Trusted Sponsor status.

Key concerns about changes announced 22 March 2011

Highly Trusted Sponsor status

HTS status will become central to the operation of Tier 4. There are shortcomings in the current form of HTS which we outlined in our submission to UKBA. These concerns still stand. Areas of the HTS guidance must be clarified in consultation with the sector, in particular:

1. The requirements for and the measuring of "drop-out" and "no-show" rates

2. Protecting academic standards in the light of 1. above

3. Recruitment practices and the extent to which institutions can be reasonably expected to vet non-academic credentials of students

4. The requirement to operate for six months at "Trusted Sponsor" level before applying for HTS (this will be problematic for new institutions that do not operate at degree level if the proposals in the first section of the consultation are implemented)

5. Establishing a level of protection for HTS status for institutions where students have breached the immigration rules without the institution’s knowledge

6. Flexibility and responsiveness of the system to accommodate bona fide academic practices and structures

Overall impact on recruitment

It is our experience that negative publicity overseas about UK immigration control can have a generalised effect on student perceptions of the UK as a study destination, to the extent that a tightening of control in one area of Tier 4, if not communicated effectively, can lead to a generalised message that the UK is less welcoming of students.

We have already seen indications overseas the announcement of 22 March has not been well received in key markets in India and China.

Five year limit on degree level study

A five year limit on degree level study will affect Scotland disproportionately. Five years gives just enough time for a student to complete a standard four year undergraduate degree and a one year postgraduate course and leaves no allowance for attending graduation, extra pre-masters preparatory study, re-sitting exams or further studies except at PhD level.

It may also have the unintended consequence of forcing institutions making academic decisions about student progress to discriminate against those who are approaching the five year limit. In other words to deny opportunities for repeat study or resubmission of work purely because this would take the student over the time limit permitted.

This proposal was not included in the original consultation and it is of great concern that the length of Scottish undergraduate degrees was not considered in formulating this change.

Levels of compliance in the sector

Regarding levels of compliance with Tier 4 requirements, UKBA have quoted research which suggests that potential non-compliance in higher education stands at around 2%. It is our anecdotal experience that non-compliance amongst our students (for example, failure to enrol or attend) is indeed very low and not a cause for concern.

Current financial environment

Like all Scottish Universities, Stirling is operating in a challenging financial environment. The ability to internationalise our operations, a process in which student recruitment is an integral part, is essential to our strategic development.

Post Study Work

In certain markets, the Post Study Work visa is an important part of the package that attracts students to the UK. Feedback from agents overseas indicates that many international students are holding offers to study in the UK and elsewhere and are waiting for an announcement on the Post Study Work route before deciding where they will study. Initial indications from overseas are that the recently-announced changes are playing very badly with agents and students in key markets.

Local considerations

Stirling is a small town and students (home and international combined) represent 15-20% of the population. International student spending in the local economy (including property rentals, services, retail and entertainment) make an important contribution to the economic health of the town and surrounding area. Former international students have also made valuable contributions under the Post Study Work scheme and its predecessor, the Fresh Talent Initiative.

It is our anecdotal experience that a significant number of international students develop a strong attachment to Scotland in general and to Stirling in particular. This attachment may result in a decision to stay and work in the area, bringing skills, knowledge and investment. Where students leave the area there is often a significant reputational dividend for Scotland. This may be manifested in longer term business connections, a positive disposition to Scotland and also repeat tourism revenue from future visits not only by former students but by extended family, friends and colleagues.

March 2011

[1] Based on overseas fee paying students, which will include some students not subject to immigration control.