The Student Immigration System in Scotland

Written evidence submitted by Universities Scotland


Executive Summary

1. Scotland’s universities are extremely concerned that the UKBA proposals will damage our ability to recruit a diverse an international student body. This is important to maintaining a vibrant learning and research environment. All students benefit from being part of a diverse student population where people are sharing different cultural perspectives. Scottish students benefit from being part of an international community, helping to expand their sense of the international possibilities which are open to them. International research students are an important contributor to the intellectual creativity of Scottish universities.

2. Universities Scotland’s specific concerns:

· The proposals are already being perceived negatively overseas and prospective students are being deterred from the UK in favour of competitor nations who will welcome their contribution.

· It is very worrying that changes may be implemented in the midst of a recruitment cycle.

· Proposed restrictions on English language qualifications, work placements and progression would intrude upon academic matters and undermine institutional autonomy as well as affecting the supply chain into HE from other institutions.

· Limits on employment rights and on dependants’ rights are likely to be perceived negatively by current and prospective international students.

· The proposed closure of post-study scheme is likely to have a significant negative impact on international recruitment.

· Partnerships between higher education institutions and other education providers in the UK could be undermined by restrictions on the provision of sub-degree programs. Around a third of international university students in the UK have progressed from lower levels of study in the UK and we are concerned that this route should remain open

· The proposed requirement for students to return home between programs could be particularly difficult for students to proceed to a more advanced course, building in significant delay, cost and uncertainty e.g. in the transition from Masters to Doctoral level study.

Policy detail

3. The economic importance of international students to Scotland’s universities

· International students are crucial to the financial sustainability of Scottish universities and make a major contribution to the wider economy.

· The income raised from international student fees was worth a total £188 million to all 20 of Scotland’s 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.

· These proposals comes at a time when universities are being encouraged to further diversify their income and increase the revenue generated from private and international sources in the face of cuts to public funding.

4. The economic importance of international students to Scotland more widely

· As an industry, Scotland’s universities contribute £6.2 billion to Scotland equating to 6 per cent of Scotland’s GVA.

· Universities directly and indirectly support 150,000 Scottish jobs

· The value of international trade universities brought to Scotland was £561 million in 2008/09.

· Graduates are vital to Scotland’s economy paying approximately 44% of all income tax in Scotland despite representing around 20% of Scotland’ working age population.

· Scottish universities achieved £44m of efficiency savings in 2009-10 - exceeding the Government target.

5. Universities Scotland’s position

· Universities Scotland would like to see recognition of the fact that international students coming to Scotland through tier 4 are not economic migrants in the same capacity as immigrants that enter the country through other routes and so should not be included as net in-migration nor subject to tighter visa constraints aimed at limiting numbers. Students are coming here to study temporarily and not to live or work permanently. Students should therefore not contribute to net migration figures.

· Failing this, we believe the distinctive Scottish regional context, within the UK, warrants consideration of some flexibility in the arrangements to meet these distinct circumstances.

· We support a tough approach to abuse of the immigration system. We are concerned, however, that measures which are designed to curb abuse by what UKBA candidly describe as ‘the dodgy language school above the chip shop’ will end up killing a key university-driven export industry whose students have an exceptionally high rate of compliance with UKBA requirements. The UKBA’s own research has found that university students’ non-compliance with visa conditions is only around 2%.

· We would like to see a recognition that work opportunities are important both during and after study for international students and that these not only attract students but offer the opportunity to address Scotland’s demographic and related economic challenges.

· Family members are already in many cases prohibited from working. We note that very few –often more mature students – wishing to undertake postgraduate/research courses, often lasting several years and with well qualified spouses, would choose to come to the UK if all work for their dependants was prohibited.

· The proposed changes to the language requirement is unrealistically high a significant assault on university autonomy – admissions decisions are for universities to make since we are best placed to judge who is equipped to succeed and to benefit from a university education. I believe it is also against the spirit of the devolution settlement that he UK Government is effectively intervening to regulate Scottish universities’ admission decisions.

6. Alternative Proposals

· The Highly Trusted Sponsor (HTS) approach should be improved and enhanced for legitimate providers, in order that genuine benefit accrues to institutions deserving of this status. The system should rely on existing scrutiny mechanisms in order to focus UKBA oversight where problems have occurred (i.e. outwith the established and state supported university sector). Allow HTS institutions to be trusted, UKBA’s own evidence shows very high compliance levels for universities, and not be subject to the proposed restrictions on English language levels and approved tests, on work placements, on progression, on work entitlements and on Post Study Work.

· 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. 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. We would like to explore the possibility that the Post Study Work entitlement could be focused and/or limited rather than completely closed. It could, for example, be limited to institutions in Scotland or to those students from key international markets (students from the USA, China and India represent the three most important markets for Scotland when all levels of study are considered and also represent Scottish Government priority areas).

7. Comments on the Statement by the Home Secretary of 22 March

Whilst the information above outlines Universities Scotland’s response to the UKBA/Home Office consultation, the proposals brought forward following consultation show some significant improvements on the original proposals. Nevertheless, the sector has ongoing concerning the following areas:

· The government’s proposal to impose a maximum time limit of 5 years on any student visas is potentially of greater (and serious) concern to 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 this time at Scottish universities. 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. Whilst the UKBA proposals offer assurances in this area, creating exceptional arrangements for individual courses may put Scottish universities at a disadvantage

· The government’s proposal to not allow post study workers to bring dependants in with them, unless they were already here whilst they were a student, is unreasonable. If the post-study workers switch from Tier4 to Tier2, these post study workers should enjoy the same entitlement as other Tier 2 visa holders such as bringing in their dependants.

· We will need to watch with caution about the Migration Advisory Committee’s autumn review of the PSW being exempt from the Tier 2 General limit should this lead to the government introducing a separate limit on post study workers in response to any increase in the number of applications.

March 2011