Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-42)|
PROFESSOR ERIC THOMAS AND NEIL CARBERRY
24 MARCH 2011
Good morning, gentlemen. Thank you both for your evidence and
agreeing to come before the inquiry today. Obviously this has
been a rapidly moving issue and we are very interested in getting
your reaction to the announcements made on Tuesday and the implications
for you. Before we start the questioning, could you just introduce
yourselves so that we can get voice levels and transcription right.
I am Eric Thomas. I am the Vice-Chancellor of the University of
Bristol and Vice-President of Universities UK.
I am Neil Carberry. I am Director of Employment Affairs at the
Thanks very much. Can we just start with a fairly general question?
How would you summarise the benefits of international students
to the UK?
The first benefit of an international student is an academic benefit.
In other words, we are bringing in highly talented individuals
who bring different intellectual viewpoints to our universities,
different cultural backgrounds. They add to the intellectual and
academic mix; they affect our own students. In other words, their
interactions with our students provide a broader and wider academic
environment, and of course there has been a very, very long history
of student mobility over the centuries among universities. So
their primary benefit for us is an academic, intellectual benefit,
but they also, nowadays, contribute very significantly to the
income of universities. At a time when other income levels are
constrained, this is an important income stream for us and also
for the economy.
I wouldn't disagree with what Eric said there. I think from a
business point of view the capacity to bring into the UK potentially
high-flying future graduates in fields like science, technology
and maths enhances the ability of UK universities to work with
business on some of the high-technology manufacturing work that
businesses are interested in pursuing alongside universities,
enhancing the quality of graduates available to UK businesses
and, of course, often supporting the continued existence of key
departments in universities on the financial basis that Eric has
A question to UUK: your press release does give the impression
that you are pleased with the outcome of the review. Do you think
that the problems that we have had with student visas are now
The first thing to say is that quite a lot of change had occurred
in the previous two years about the visa system, which I think
had made the situation significantly better. We are pleased with
the outcome of the recommendations made last Tuesday. We do genuinely
feel that both the UK Border Agency and the Government listened;
they involved themselves in considerable discussions with us;
they were open to our suggestions; they recognised the problems
that significant constraints on student visas may cause us; and
they have addressed virtually all of our concerns in the recommendations
that they have put forward.
Do you anticipate that basically all those applicants that want
to come to universities, and it is appropriate and legitimate
for them to be there, will be allowed in now?
I think it is fair to say that that is what we anticipate. We
will be interested to see how it operates. It is like many things
to do with visas, the devil comes in the detail, and we are going
to work through the operation obviously with UKBA but I think
that the answer to your question is yes.
Will you be involved withshall we sayworking on
the process for this with UKBA?
Universities UK has had a member of staff in UKBA permanently
over the last few months. We are now working much closer with
them in addressing the issue. So the answer is we will be involved,
but obviously they will be the main agency.
I just turn to the CBI now, really the equivalent question: do
you think the issue is now being solved as far as business is
I think the principal issue, yes, has largely been resolved. The
key things that we set out in our response to the Home Office
in January were that there should be protection for graduate level
and pre-graduate level entry in the new system and that the post-study
work route should be retained, albeit targeted to ensure that
it is economically beneficial. I think the statement made on Tuesday
largely ticks both of those boxes.
Have you been involved with the UKBA in devising appropriate processes?
Yes, and I have to say that over the last couple of years both
the Home Office and the UKBA part of it have come a long way in
working with outside stakeholders. I think it is appropriate to
record in this session the appreciation that we and I know other
stakeholders feel for that in terms of making the system work
rather better in the real world.
Q8 Paul Blomfield:
Both UUK and CBI were concerned about the initial proposals on
the closure of the post-study work route, and while I recognise
the need to develop a positive public narrative arising from the
genuine changes that have been made, I detect from talking to
vice-chancellors that there remains a concern that the new arrangements
are probably still too restrictive and perhaps need some greater
flexibility. I wonder what you both felt about that. In particular,
for example, is the £20,000 threshold going to be too restrictive
in terms of regional variations, sectoral variations?
The first thing is there are two aspects to post-study work. The
first is the ability to be able to do it is an important recruitment
tool and therefore it had been closed off that would have been
a very difficult issue with us because other countries offer it
as a recruitment tool, and then only a percentage of people take
it up. So the fact it is an option brings people to the country
but only a percentage is taken up. It is quite difficult to work
out exactly the number. We think probably around about 22%, possibly
a little bit more; it is difficult to do that data.
We don't feel that for most industries £20,000
is too much of a barrier, but we do feel in arts and for musicians
that that may well be a significant issue when the average starting
salary for those individuals is about £17,000. I think, as
I said to the Chair, it will be working on the ground and working
this through will be what proves to us whether it is an issue
or not. It certainly is something that causes us a little concern,
but the fact that we are able to say to our potential applicants
that there are the opportunities for post-study work was the crucial
issue for us.
There is clearly a line to be drawn in any managed migration policy
between the economic desirability of having a certain individual
in the country doing work and the potential impact of that on
the domestic workforce. Therefore in any post-study work you have
to draw the line somewhere and I think we are fairly comfortable
with the £20,000 limit, because if you look at the major
graduate schemes that is sufficient to qualify people in most
Where I think there is more concern on the business
is in the frequency with which the rules in areas like this can
change, and is something that we would look to work with UKBA
on in the coming months. We had an incident earlier this month
in Tier 2, in the business tiers, where the salary requirements
were changed with very little notice and then corrected because
it was a mistake. But these are changes which affect people's
lives and I think, in terms of looking to the delivery of post-study
work, what we would be wanting to see is some stability about
the expectations of what individuals will have in order to qualify
for the visa.
Q9 Paul Blomfield:
Can I push just a little further, in that I have just quickly
looked at starting salaries for one of the universities in my
own constituency and the mean starting salaries just fall under,
very close, at £19,900 at Sheffield. While there wouldn't
be problems probably in engineering or in medicine and related
areas, pure science falls well below that and I wondered in that
context whether you wouldn't agree that some greater flexibility
in the application of that rule would be helpful.
It is interesting. We have had discussions with two major scientific
institutions, Wellcome and Sanger, who don't think that £20,000
would be a significant problem for them. Essentially where we
are in this is things like post-docs, which are crucial parts
of the scientific endeavour, but their information for us is that
should not be a problem. What it will probably mean, I think,
is that the post-doc salary becomes £20,000 a year.
Q10 Simon Kirby:
My question is addressed to the CBI. Could I put it to you that
there are additional benefits of having international students
studying in this country, one of which is the direct link with
inward investment in an increasingly global economy. Is that not
a huge potential benefit?
Certainly in the broader context, we have been clear in the whole
of the work permit reform to encourage Government to think about
businesses working in Britain supporting jobs in Britain, based
on doing business around the globe, and making sure that the system
supports a growth agenda. I think, as part of that, it is certainly
true that students from outside the EEA are often brought into
companies here from universities here and then returned to their
home markets or somewhere in the region with global British companies.
That is clearly a benefit. I think by comparison with the importance
of Tier 2, it is probably less of the major issue, but clearly
it does add value to the attraction of the UK as a place to base
Q11 Simon Kirby:
For the record, Chairand this is anecdotal and I apologise
for thaton our visit to China, it was quite clear to me
that certainly in the Chinese mind there was a direct link between
the access to education and the desire to do business in partnership.
I think that is very difficult to argue against.
Yes, I would accept that.
Q12 Paul Blomfield:
Just very briefly to Professor Thomas. Is it your understanding
from the discussions that you have had with the Home Office that
post-doc or post-graduate applications for teaching and research
posts in universities would be through the Tier 2 or Tier 4 route?
Through the Tier 2 route predominantly, and also the ranking system
has given additional weight to PhD-level activity.
Q13 Rebecca Harris:
This is to Professor Thomas really. Previously your president,
Professor Steve Smith, said that any reduction in international
students could affect our teaching here in STEM subjects, and
I just wondered if you could expand on that?
Did you say STEM, sorry?
Rebecca Harris: Yes.
There are some STEM courses which have a significant dependence
for their sustainability on international students and, therefore,
if there had been a significant reduction in international students
coming to them, it could have made those courses unsustainable.
There is no cap, and the way the system looks as if it is going
to work, we will still have anxieties about that, but we probably
have anxieties about such courses anyway, obviously. But we will
just have to see how things go going forward.
Q14 Rebecca Harris:
Presumably, if that were a problem, this could potentially affect
wider industry, like the ability of universities to attract post-graduate
research and that kind of thing.
Yes. We think the situation we are in now is manageable in those
Q15 Rebecca Harris:
I would like to expand a little bit on what Simon was saying.
Would you say that knowledge of cultural differences is important
for British business and how much, for example, an international
MBA student might help us to develop trade and export links abroad?
Absolutely vital. I think British businesses have long gone beyond
the world in which you send someone who essentially looks like
me to Latin America to sell a British product. That is a difficult
sell. Increasingly we work in a global environment and we seek
to bring into businesses the kinds of people who understand the
markets in which we are asking them to work. Certainly, we had
a very powerful example at the time we were working on the Tier
2 system around a major British plc who were desperately trying
to hire someone from South America in order to take a traditional
British brand into South America and were having some difficulty
with that under the proposals before the Home Secretary's November
So from that point of view, it is clearly the agenda
of companies to understand the market in which they work and that
will require a greater degree of global mobility in the future
than perhaps there has been in the past. But what I would emphasise
is for the most part for British companies that kind of transfer
is net migration neutral. There are as many people leaving UK-based
companies as coming in. Certainly, if you go around the table
of our major members they would tend to take that view. That is
why we push very hard for some of the controls of the ICTs to
be set up the way they are in order to encourage businesses to
retain headquarters in the UK, because of course that has significant
additional benefits to the British workforce in terms of additional
jobs here. I think that principle holds for international students
Q16 Mr Ward:
Can I just add on to that? When I did an MBA at the University
of Bradford I think a third of the course were from overseas.
I certainly was not aware of any effort being made to see that
as an asset and to utilise it. We basically came there and we
all went then away 15 months later or whatever it was. Is there
a co-ordinated strategy and, if there isn't, should there be one
for making the most of this great asset that we have, which is
people coming to this country to study?
We are very, very conscious of the need to improve links between
business and our higher education institutions as part of the
strategy for growth in the UK, and indeed we published a major
piece of work about 18 months ago on business-university links
and the need to strengthen them. I am very happy to let the Committee
to have that as written evidence after this session if that would
Can I just tease out a comment that was made earlier and its implications.
Earlier, I believe it was Professor Thomas who said that, if you
like, post-grad students were coming through the Tier 2 route.
Did I get that right?
No, that is for post-study work.
Chair: Post-study work,
Post-study work is now being done under Tier 2.
Chair: Right, thank you.
Post-study work. Interestingly, Tier 2 also covers skilled workers
with a job offer and intra-corporate transfers below £40,000
salary levels. There is a cap of 20,700 on that. In light of what
you said earlier that you expected, in effect, students to be
able to get it hereand I would include post-study workers
on thatis that going to be enough?
I don't think the students in post-study work are going to be
part of that 20,700; that is my understanding. So that is 20,700
individuals coming for a job. My understanding is that currently
that is higher than the number of individuals that are admitted
under Tier 2 as it stands. Of course Tier 1 is being abolished
and we don't know what the implications for the number of applications
will then be as a consequence of that into Tier 2, but at the
moment that is higher than the current Tier 2 applications.
So you are saying that with the abolition of Tier 1, which had
a cap 1,000, they might come in via Tier 2 and that could impact
In which case then I would personally expect the number of applications
on Tier 2 to rise. I am just not sure what level they would rise
to. But to stress that, of course, if decisions are being made
on rankings, specific notice has been taken of the kind of things
that would give a higher ranking because of academic issues. What
they call the PhD activities, research and development managers,
chemists, biological sciences, biochemists, physicists, geologists,
higher education teaching professionals, scientific researchers,
social sciences researchers and researchers not elsewhere classified
are given a priority ranking under the new system. You are essentially
describing there a group of people that will be wanting to come
Q19 Nadhim Zahawi:
The sharing of research methods is highlighted as being a major
benefit of international students. Do you think we could replicate
this in business?
Yes, and in fact there is some practice ongoing in that regard.
Certainly, a number of major multinationals, when doing work outside
the EEA, make arrangements with their joint venture partners to
bring people into the UK often under Tier 5, and there is a consultation
this summer from UKBA on that that we are doing some work on,
to build up some knowledge around IP, either in partner higher
education institutions that they are working with or in the business's
own research establishments. That kind of development is absolutely
key to the higher end manufacturing and process industry work
that many of our UK multinats are working in.
Q20 Nadhim Zahawi:
When the Committee visited China, we heard about difficulties
of UK companies gaining visas for their Chinese staff to attend
conferences, training courses and so on in the UK. Do these experiences
surprise you, or are they part of a more common experience?
There is a question about the system and there is a question about
the process, and I think we have to be fairly blunt that for China
in particular, and East Asia more broadly, after 2008 there were
some particular issues with speed of processing and decision-making
in Manila, which is the regional hub. I would suspect that some
of the reports you heard on your visit relate to that and there
was some frustration about that at the time. I think most of that
has now been sorted out.
Q21 Nadhim Zahawi:
Separately, on a number of visits that I have conducted to the
Middle East, for example, I saw evidence of similar frustrations
with business visas, but your answer seems to be that you are
much more relaxed about it than businesses and local chambers
of commerce that I met were portraying.
I don't think we are relaxed about in post decision-making, to
be honest. It is our impression that the basic design of the system
and the policy is right. I think there are certainly still issues
with how in post decision-making is done, and from our point of
view we would hope that a period of stability would allow UKBA
to begin to make sure that that objective decision in post is
being made. At the time of PBS being introduced, one of the big
changes was to move the decision-making to an in post basis and
we, at that time, were very clear that the problem with that is
traditionally that has been a subjective decision and I think
posts have made variable progress in turning those into objective
Q22 Nadhim Zahawi:
Just on that point, how do we compare with our major European
competitors, the Germans, the French and so on?
I mentioned Manila. I think during the period of the Manila troubles
Britain's image took a bit of a hit with people coming in from
countries like Japan and China. For instance, in Germany, if you
were a Japanese FD coming to run the finance operation of a Japanese
company in Frankfurt you would turn up at Frankfurt airport and
you would spend a couple of hours longer there than other travellers
and you would get your visa, and you would have the documents
with you. Meanwhile, we were asking senior Japanese business professionals
to send their passports to Manila for three weeks. One Japanese
executive who I was talking to said, "I'm not even sure that's
legal under Japanese law." There was a sense that, on the
operational side, we were asking fairly senior people to do things
that were damaging their effectiveness for a period of weeks when,
for instance, colleagues going to Germany were doing it very quickly.
Now, if you were a Japanese company making a decision about where
to base European headquarters that is clearly a very important
Q23 Nadhim Zahawi:
That is very worrying, because I heard exactly the same thing
on the other side of the world in the Middle East, where they
are asked to submit their passport for two weeks to the embassy
in Oman, even if they happen to come from another Middle Eastern
country, and wait to be told whether we are going to allow them
in or not, versus Schengen visas that are delivered in 24 to 48
hours. Isn't that really the pointthat we really did miss
out at the most crucial period of the recession?
Process speed was an issue from 2008. I know UKBA have made efforts
to improve it. There is still some way to go, and I think we are
very happy to work with UKBA on examples and on potential improvements.
Q24 Nadhim Zahawi:
Let me press you a bit. You say there is some way to go. What
would you suggest they do?
We would suggest that you apply the same principle that we have
tried to encourage them to apply in the system more broadly, which
is where people are clearly economically significant you attempt
to make the process as swift as possible. For instance, we were
clear that we should give priority to Tier 2 over Tier 1, because
Tier 2 applicants have a job offer; very clear in Tier 4 that
graduates and pre-graduates should have priority because of their
higher skill levels. I think in this system we clearly have to
have an approach that allows people who are coming into the UK,
in large part to take part in a business that is substantially
beneficial to the UK economy, can expect to get a decision quickly
and an objective decision rather than a subjective decision. Certainly,
across the board, we still see examples ofI saw one last
week in the student tier where someone was turned away at Heathrow
because they didn't have enough funds to do a whole year course.
That was because they were only here for a term and that had to
be overturned on appeal and someone missed a couple of weeks of
their course. So that kind of process requiring appeal is still
Q25 Nadhim Zahawi:
It sounds to me that the system is still not fit for purpose from
what you are saying.
I think the system design is fit for purpose. I think there is
a way to go and a need for more effort in terms of the path people
take through the system. It seems to us that many of our major
members have spent seven figure sums on their sponsorship systems,
and they are delivering the certificates of sponsorship very quickly.
They are assessing them correctly, and yet there is still, in
the system, a
Nadhim Zahawi: Sclerosis.
A sclerosis. I was going to use the phrase "some treacle",
which is slowing things down.
Q26 Mr Ward:
Is it sclerosis, which seems to apply to the whole system, or
is it simply that authority is not delegated at a low enough level
to make quick decisions?
I think authority is delegated reasonably far into the system.
I would argue that the issue, certainly in the past, in the period
between the introduction of the PBS and the current form, has
been that authority has got to the frontline but perhaps not a
full understanding of what the policy is.
Q27 Nadhim Zahawi:
Thank you for that. My next question is really about Highly Trusted
Sponsor and the establishment of that, which the Government states
will make the visa regime easier to navigate. You and your universities
are already Highly Trusted Sponsors, yet you are still experiencing
difficulties, would you say?
Our experience would reflect very much what Neil was saying that
certainly two to two and a half years ago there was significant
difficulties but the disciplines required of universities to get
Highly Trusted Sponsor status has made a great deal of difference
to how we interact over this issue, more effectively, more efficiently,
understanding our responsibilities more. Undoubtedly, my international
office at Bristol would say that has been a very good process
for the university to have to go through and that we have seen
the sort of improvements that Neil has been describing over the
more recent past. So my head of the international office would
say that on balance most of the time the students get their visas
in a timely fashion and are able to come to the university.
Q28 Nadhim Zahawi:
Would you say those differences are significant now?
They are significant now, yes.
Q29 Mr Ward:
Could I just ask you whether you feel that the way of controlling
public expenditure in the university sector in the past was really
through the capping of undergraduates, so post-graduates, external
income generation and all that was as much as you can and international
students was uncapped. Do you think that put pressure on institutionsnot
reputable institutionsto be light in their examination
of international applications?
The answer is I don't know. I can tell you in my own institution
that most certainly did not take placeabsolutely clearly
did not take place. When you are taking international students
you are in the very best sense protecting your own brand. It is
not in your interests to admit not capable international students,
because if other international students come and find that to
be the case, it is viral these days; it gets out in next to no
time at all whatsoever. So the idea that it is in your interests,
or certainly in my interests, to accept low-quality students because
they simply are bringing dollars or whatever currency with them
is counterproductive, profoundly counterproductive.
The other thing is that the international student
market is a very unpredictable and very volatile market. Certainly,
when SARS came along we took a £7 million in year hit on
students not arriving to the University of Bristol, and when your
surplus is £7 million, that is a seriously hit. Therefore,
in terms of the way that you would take the university forward
in a derisking level, we set out level of international students
at about 13% to 14% so as we did not expose ourselves greatly
to volatility risks. So, while it might be tempting to think that
universities might do what you said, for many reasons it could
be profoundly counterproductive for them to do.
Q30 Rebecca Harris:
If I could just follow on from that, just to put it another way:
do you see any risk of any UK university losing their most trusted
status? Can you envisage that happening?
My understanding is that there isn't a risk of that at the momentthat
is my understanding. I think universities recognise their duties
in these circumstances. It is our duty to know which students
are coming to us, which students have arrived, how they are doing
on the course and what happens to them when they leave, and to
be able to answer those questions should they be put. In view
of society saying you can bring these individuals to the country
against the anxiety about migration then we have to fulfil those
duties to be Highly Trusted Sponsors. I think universities take
that quite seriously. As I say, the process of going through that
over the last two and half years has been very important for universities.
I am not aware of a university that is about to lose HTS.
Q31 Nadhim Zahawi:
Very quick last two questions, and one is probably more relevant
to the next panel, which is the Ministers, but I will ask you
as well. The Government is proposing obviously a 20-hour limit
on student working. If a research student does more, will they
be breaking the terms of their visa? What do you understand
the consequences of that action to be and who will be responsible
for that? Is it the student or the sponsor or the employer?
Chair: Which one of you
will get it in the neck?
My understanding is that the person who will get it in the neck
will be the student. It bears repetition that only 2% of overseas
students to universities are non-compliant. We are not the non-compliant
end of the game. If I can be personal, my daughter's partner is
a Mexican who is studying a PhD at King's College in London, and
he was offered work of 24 hours and he didn't take it because
he was so frightened of losing his visa. These are not non-compliant
individuals. These are people who it is so important for them
to be here and to be experiencing that PhD that they are not going
to break the terms.
Q32 Nadhim Zahawi:
The differentiation between publicly funded and private universities,
is that a good thing? The system is going to differentiate.
The system differentiates
Nadhim Zahawi: The new
I see, right. I am not quite sure what you mean. You mean the
EPPthe entirely private providersbut they will still,
I believe, be subject to the same constraints as a publicly funded
I don't want to introduce a whole line of questioning based on
your personal circumstances, but you have just quoted one that
was quite interesting. What are the broader implications, in terms
of recruiting talented people into business, of the regulation
as it standsthe 20-hour limit? Is there any way that, from
your perspective, you think it could be improved?
I think the primary reason that these individuals come to this
country is for academic development and therefore you have to
look at what will be a reasonable number of hours' worth of work
to do if you are reading for a PhD or you are doing an MA. It
seems to me that 20 hours is a reasonable amount for that reason
alone, not necessarily because it is arbitrarily set there but
if someone was doing 40 hours work a week, how in the world do
they have the time to do a PhD? When I did my doctorate, it occupied
every hour of my working day, and I certainly couldn't have done
an additional 20 hours' worth of work. So it seems if a figure
is going to be set that 20 hours is a reasonable figure to be
set against the background of what is in the best interests of
the individual pursuing that academic activity.
The other side of the coin: do you think you could lose potentially
talented people in business as a result of it?
I think our support for the 20-hour limit is based on the fact
that if we are letting people into the country to study and they
want to earn a little more money to improve their standard of
living then that kind of opportunism should be encouraged. Certainly,
there are parts of business where long-term employee relationships
do start with very limited periods of work on the frontline, particularly
in retail. Therefore, some of those relationships may be fostered
while doing less than 20 hours a week. One of the key pieces of
feedback we had from our members at the time of the consultation,
though, was that students who want to work a package of five or
10 hours a week are quite useful in some parts of the country
with relatively tight labour markets, even at the moment, because
they are willing to do shifts that are very difficult to recruit
Q35 Mr Ward:
Was it not also, in this stage of deregulation, an issue for employers
about the whole bureaucracy of record keeping and reporting on
We have always had an hours limit, and I think the systems are
relatively well set up for that. Largely for the reasons that
the professor has set out, you want to have a limit because if
someone is working for one of my members for 35 hours a week then
you would legitimately ask questions about the course that they
are doing at their educational institution.
Mr Ward: Unless they were
a really good employee and you didn't want to lose them.
Twenty hours a week seems to us to strike the right balance. What
we were pleased with was that the Government moved back from its
proposals to try and regulate that further. Clearly, when they
were talking about just doing on campus work or only allowing
work at weekends, that would have been a significant burden, very
messy, and I don't know about you, but certainly when I was a
student weekends were something that happened to other people.
My work week focused on the two points at which I had to deliver
work to my extremely demanding tutor.
It is not unique to students; politicians have the same problem.
Can I move on to the issue of standards of English? Obviously,
you will have noted in the Minister's statement on Tuesday, the
announcement, that higher levels of English will be required from
visa applicants. A number of issues were raised on the Floor of
the House in that context and I would welcome your perspective
on how these changes could impact on the successful applicants
and the implications for your respective professions.
We are quite content with B2 for undergraduate degrees. We think
that is a reasonable position. There is an exception made: the
classic story of the mathematician, the brilliant mathematician
who can't speak English very well but isn't going to have to use
it and therefore will be able to come, because they don't speak
English in mathematics apparentlyI'm not sure. Our anxiety
was setting B2 for pre-university courses, because that would
have had very significant impact and 40% of undergraduates from
overseas coming to British universities come through a pre-university
course. So, setting it at B1, certainly we were pleased that the
Government did that and understand the need that they will still
have to be at B2 when they enter the undergraduate degree. There
had been a suggestion of B2 for the pre-university courses and
that would have had a major impact. Setting it at B1 solves a
significant amount of that.
I agree with most of that. I think we are very comfortable with
the standards as they are set out now. Clearly, employers in the
UK tend to like employees to be able to speak English and the
B2 standard is, we feel, the right one where it has been set.
I think the one concern we would have, and it comes back to the
discussion we had earlier, is about when that assessment is made
and how that assessment is made. We are fundamentally uncomfortable
with a B2 assessment being done on the basis of a chat at Heathrow.
I think there has to be due process for people to show that they
have B2, have the certification and for that to be trusted through
You have partially pre-empted my next question. My understanding
is that universities will be afforded a level of discretion, basically,
on assessing the applicant's command. First of all, from the universities'
perspective, how is that going to be done and will it be potentially
challengeable by the UK Border Agency? If all of this is the case,
how will those disagreements be resolved? I will start with yourself
and then go on to your perspective.
The answer is I am sure it will be challengeable by the UK Border
Agency, but if we can go back to basics again, we don't want to
admit people to our degrees who are having major difficulties
with English. What that does is just create a huge workload for
us in terms of having to supervise the students, having to take
the students on the journey through to their degree. Let me be
quite clear: it is in our interests to ensure that there is good
facility with English for the students coming to our universities.
So we are already set up quite well to check on the English capabilities
of our students.
You already have a process in place to make that assessment?
We have a process in place, absolutely. As I say, we don't want
to admit people whose English is poor and therefore we will be
able to continue with that, and I think it will be part of the
highly trusted status that that is left to us to do. But I have
no doubt that there will be monitoring of that by the UK Border
Agency, and that if they feel we are not doing that appropriately,
I am sure it will be challengeable. It is our duty to do that
In a moment, I will bring in Paul Blomfield, but basically should
business be able to make the same assessment? From what you said
earlier, I get the impression that you haven't really thought
through what business could do to make this assessment. Is that
correct? What would you suggest?
No. Within skilled tiers, in particularly Tier 2, there is already
a testing framework in place that businesses comply with. We also
have a similar process for certain scientific people coming infor
instance, from the major Japanese car manufacturers who are coming
to live in the UK for a period with an interpreter standing next
to them because they are extremely well paid. What they are doing
is giving technical input into the production of a new car in
the UK. So both those tracks are already in place in Tier 2.
Q40 Paul Blomfield:
To follow up on this issue, I thought Professor Thomas very fully
described the robust system that is already in place for university
assessment of proficiency in English. There does appear to be,
within the Home Secretary's statement, a residual discretion for
UKBA officials at point of entry to make their own decision about
proficiency. Do you think that those officials are adequately
trained to make those sorts of decision in relation to university
Professor Thomas: The answer to
that question is I don't know. I have been invited to the frontline
in September at Heathrow personally to sit with these officials
and see when the wave of students come through. They do provide
quite significant anecdotal tales that tend to make your hair
curl a little bit of when they ask somebody which university they
are going to and they are not capable of answering that, or which
course they are going to and they are not capable of answering
that, and then when you open the luggage, there are builder's
tools in it. The UK Border Agency has a number of anecdotes of
apparently going to quite well established universities. So one
must take that at face value. I can't see how we can't allow a
decision in those circumstances to be made by an official on the
frontline. But you would have to ask the UK Border Agency about
the level of training that they have, because I don't know.
Q41 Chair: We are
coming to the conclusion of our questions but just a couple of
final ones. Obviously you have been fairly positive about the
changes that have been announced, but certainly from our visit
to China, and other anecdotal evidence there does seem to be a
perception abroad, arising from the previous visa regime, that
Britain is no longer open for business. What do you think the
Government can do to change that?
Well, it can shout from the very rooftops that we are open for
business. I can tell you that the overseas applications to the
University of Bristol this year have never been as high as they
are. So if the message out there is that we are not open for business,
people aren't listening to that message; they are applying to
come to our university. Let's be quite clear about that.
Certainly ,the Minister made the "open
for business" very, very, very plain when he spoke at the
Going Global conference in Hong Kong a couple of weeks ago. The
President of Universities UK has been saying that whenever they
go abroad. We have to get some clear messages out that overseas
student fees are not affected by changes to home undergraduate
fees, which is a misperception that overseas students thought
that they were having their fees trebled.
There is a very interesting analysis by a think tank
in Boston of the quite precipitate drop in overseas applications
to Australia that caused real problems in Australian universities,
and their analysis was that society goes through kind of migration
positive-migration negative cycles and that the overseas student
applications pick up that a society is in a migration negative
mode, and that is the most off-putting thing for themthe
sense that that society at the time is not positive about migration.
So there needs to be a series of things that say, "Yes, we
do want highly skilled; we do want the very best coming to the
United Kingdom" and that needs to be at ministerial level
and in publications, and universities need to also say that quite
That message goes for the whole of the business community as well.
The key thing is to make the very reasonable goal of having a
balanced migration strategy that takes account of both economic
and social issues, to deliver a message around the world that
if you want to come to Britain to invest, if you want to partner
with a UK university, if you want to set up a head office here,
that you can do that, that you will not be held back from bringing
in the 15 or 20 people you need to run an operation of 200 or
I think that means that everything that the
Government doesbe it asking the Migration Advisory Committee
about Tier 2 limits, be it about the message that the Prime Minister
gives when he speaks on the subjecthas to make clear how
and by which means the policy is supporting the goals the Chancellor
set out yesterday in terms of boosting UK economic growth.
Q42 Chair: A final
question to you, Mr Carberry. We have had previous evidence, in
our case from Airbus and I believe that there was also a debate
in the House of Lords that quoted Google, about British companies
having difficulties with UKBA in processing visas. Is this untypical,
or would you agree it is a problem and do you think it is still
going to be a problem?
I will refer you back to the discussion we had earlier. I think
the problem was much more substantial 18 months to two years ago.
It is still the case that the system is slower than many international
businesses would like it to be and that they feel it ought to
be given the amount of investment they are now putting behind
getting their applications right, and in terms of some of these
global companies, such as the two you mentioned, clearly getting
people into the UK to do work that is good for the broader economy
quickly is beneficial for us all.
Chair: Thank you. That
concludes our questioning. Can I thank you once again for attending?
We will now be interviewing one of the Ministers, and you will
no doubt see the outcome of our deliberations in due course. Good