The Student Immigration System in Scotland

Written evidence submitted by Glasgow Caledonian University

Glasgow Caledonian University welcomes and supports those outcomes of the recent consultation on "The Student Immigration System" which are designed to ensure that only appropriately qualified and genuine students are able to enter educational provision in the UK. The elimination of those sub degree providers where abuse of Tier 4 and visa non-compliance has been demonstrated is a priority supported by the Higher Education (HE) sector as whole and consistently expressed by Universities UK (UUK) since discussion on PBS Tier 4 began. Also expressed by UUK is the view that genuine international students recruited by HTS institutions are not and should not be classed as economic migrants as the vast majority of them return home on the completion of their studies. GCU supports that view and there has been no evidence presented by the government either as part of the consultation exercise or within this week’s announcement which suggests any other position. Their inclusion in the net migration figures therefore grossly distorts the true position and is one of a number of misleading aspects of the the Government’s data.

While are supportive of a number of the actions outlined in the Government response to the consultation, as it stands, we believe that there remain aspects of the response which act to the detriment of genuine international student recruitment to the UK and which will have an adverse impact nationally and within the Scottish context. Our concerns in this respect centre around the following:

· Closure of the Post Study Work route

While noting the opportunity for new graduates to apply for work throughTier 2 and also the new entrpreneurial opportunity, we do not see the decision to close the Post Study Work route as helpful in terms of supporting UK immigration policy or in terms of the stated objective of continuing to encourage the best qualified applicants to apply for study in the UK. While the University is supportive of all valid restrictions on unneccesary immigration and visa abuse, the closure of the Post Study Work route will be viewed as regressive, discouraging and unwelcoming by overseas applicants, many of whom view the opportunity of a period of post study work activity in the UK as an integral part of their educational experience. Application through Tier 2 and the £20K minimum starting salary is likely to significantly diminish the chances of graduates finding work opportunities post study outside of the Greater London/Home Counties area. Starting salaries for newly qualified graduates in SE England are higher than elsewhere in the UK, and employers are unlikely to enhance their graduate starting salaries in other parts of the UK simply to allow overseas students to take advantage of the Tier 2 route. In addition, graduate starting salaries will vary widely depending on the type of employer. In Law and Finance for example they are likely to be higher than e.g. Construction and Journalism.

The opportunity of work experience creates a very positive view of UK Higher Education among potential applicants and is viewed as an opportunity to gain experience and enhance their graduate employability when returning home. In the current highly competitive global environment for the recuitment of international students, in which many of our competitors offer post study work experience without the restrictions imposed here, the removal of the post study work opportunity by the UK will undoubtedly place this country at a competitive disadvantage. We have little doubt that it will have a detrimental impact on recruitment and many good quality applicants will be lost to the UK.

Within the Scottish context the closure of the Post Study Work route, which in itself replaced the Scottish Government’s Fresh Talent Initiative, is seen as having a particular regional impact. Unlike the rest of the UK, Scotland is experiencing a period of demographic decline which is projected to continue in the forseeable future. Post Study Work is therefore viewed in Scotland as an opportunity to attract fresh, young, educated talent to contribute to the Scottish economy as part of the strategy for arresting demographic decline. The cessation of the Post Study Work opportunity is therefore viewed particularly negatively by Scotland which has now lost the Fresh Talent Initiative and the Post Study Work Route in favour of a scheme which is unlikly to be workable because of the salary restrictions imposed. While welcoming the the proposal for student entrepreneurs, this is unlikely to be applicable to the vast majority of students. We do not agree with the Governement that a Scottish opt out from this announcement in favour of retention of the Post Study Work route north of the border is unworkable. However if the Committee were to support the Governments position then we would strongly recommend that regional variations of the graduate starting salary, which reflect the actual norm for each region, be established.

· Ending of Dependents’ Sponsorship

We consider this to be a serious impediment to recruitment by HTS institutions to undergraduate programmes and the majority of PGT programmes, most of which currently last for 12 months. In particular this is restrictive to the recruitment of moslem students and other cultures where chaperoning is required. Male moslem students with wives and families are required to play a chaperoning role for their wives and female dependants and will be unable to travel without these members of their family. Female moslem students from many countries will not be permitted to travel if their husbands or, if not married, another member of their family is not permitted to travel with them to play a chaperoning role. This blanket restriction is placing UK Universities at a competitive disadvantage in the recruitment of these students (and they represent a significant number) in relation to our competitors. It is also unfairly discriminating against the students concerned and their culture. We would strongly recommend that Masters programmes of one year duration or more exempted from this restriction. In addition, for undergraduate programmes, it would be fairer if HTS institutions were able to make a case to UKBA for dependants’ visas to be issued and to be able to judge each case on its own merits.

· Financial Implications

We have previously highlighted figures demonstrating the fiscal importance of international students to the Scottish economy in our consultation response. To summarise these figures at the local and regional level, Glasgow Caledonian University’s International students from outside the EU account for 8.5% of all students studying at the University, and it is even higher elsewhere at 11 per cent of all students studying in Scotland. The income raised from international student fees was worth a total £188 million to all 20 Scottish universities in 2007/08. Taking the sector as a whole, international students account for approximately £16 of every £100 Scotland’s universities receive in income for teaching grants and contracts. This gives an indication of the significance of this aspect of our business for our overall sustainability. This year Glasgow Caledonian University asked Biggar Economics to forecast the added value of the whole Scottish Higher Education sector’s international activity at risk from the questions posed in the consultation document. They estimated it at over £100million. You will appreciate that this estimate, provided as it is by a respected independent source, is a matter of real concern not only for the university sector, but also the wider local, regional and national economies. In addition, the longer term benefits accruing to the UK economy from the goodwill of those in positions of power and influence whether it be government or enterprise, and who gained their education in the United Kingdom, cannot be calculated.

Although UKBA and the Home Office take great pains to point out that the impact of the decisions announced this week will largely be on private sector institutions and not Highly Trusted Sponsors, we are not convinced that will be the case. Our own intelligence and experience in the field tells us that two of the most important issues of consideration for many international students in making their decision where to study is the opportunity for post study work in their country of destination (as this provides them with a competitive advantage in the employment market when they return to their own country) and the opportunity for married students with families to bring their dependants with them. The decisions announced by the Government this week, on the basis of flawed and incorrect data, will severely impact on the competitive position of the UK and Scotland in the international recruitment market. This in turn will have a knock on impact on the revenue which institutions are able to generate from this highly lucrative market. For Scottish institutions, struggling to close the funding gap, this represents a very serious position to be placed in by a UK government policy

March 2011