Student Visas - Business, Innovation and Skills Committee Contents

Letter to the Chair of the Committee from Mina Kasherova, International Students' Officer, Sheffield University


I am writing to you on behalf of the Student Officer team of the University of Sheffield Students' Union, in your capacity as Chair of the Business Innovation and Skills Select Commitee. We are concerned with the proposed changes to the rights of international students who hold a Tier 4 visa, particularly the negative impact they could have the local economies of University cities like Sheffield and the British economy nationally.

I understand the Select Committee is holding an evidence session on the impact of the proposals on 24 March, so I thought it would be worth expressing our concerns with the proposals.

The University of Sheffield Students' Union represents over 24,000 students, of whom just under 5,000 are international students from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) and will be directly affected by the proposals to reform the Student Immigration System. Our international students come from over 138 countries round the world.

At Sheffield the contribution from international student fees accounts for £48 million, or 12%, of the total income of the University, while international students at Sheffield Hallam University bring in £20.5 million to the University, or 10% of the University's annual income.

International students are not permanent migrants and are not a drain on the UK economy. They pay full fees for their studies and have to bring sufficient funds to cover all their living costs for them and any dependants. If they do work part time as allowed under the current rules they will pay tax and national insurance like any other UK resident. In addition part of their visa fee already includes a surcharge of £50 as a contribution towards their use of public services.

In addition to this, the cities two Universities jointly estimate that international students bring in £90 million a year to Sheffield's economy, while on a national level, the Higher Education Policy Institute calculates that international students bring £8 billion into the British economy every year, a huge figure in net currency which could potentially be lost if these proposals go through.

We have consulted our current students and had over 130 direct responses from our international students to the proposals. In particular they are most aggrieved about the proposals to abolish the Post Study Work Scheme which allows students who have successfully completed a degree to stay in the UK to work for two years. Many students chose to come to the UK because of this scheme and now feel that their plans are about to be shattered by these proposals. There is no doubt that the way in which current students are treated by the Coalition government with respect to the PSW scheme will be pivotal in managing what could be a devastating "own goal" in terms of future student recruitment.

Our current students who will graduate in the next few years came to the UK expecting to be able to get this UK based work experience. Some have job offers lined for the summer of 2011 upon graduation with UK based companies such as Jaguar Land Rover, National Grid and Proctor and Gamble. These companies have recruited these students through a highly selective process and will only have appointed these students on merit. Given the current cap on Tier 2, in all of these cases, the employers have asked the students to apply for PSW in order to take up these posts. These students are now very concerned they may lose these valuable job opportunities.

In addition, we must highlight to you a particular problem facing our Architecture students. To become an architect in the UK is a very lengthy and costly process. The student must do a BA degree for three years (Part 1) and then do at least a one year work placement before proceeding to Part 2 of the Royal Institute of British Architects professional qualification. Part 2 takes two years of further study. This first six years are all covered under the Tier 4 student rules. However, a person cannot call themselves an architect until they have done a further work placement in the UK for 12 months and then successfully completed a Part 3 exam. The only option for students to do the second mandatory work placement is under the PSW scheme as they are no longer registered as full time students. There is no possibility of such work experience placements being covered under Tier 2. If students cannot qualify as architects there is no doubt that British universities will not be able to recruit any international students to their courses.

As one of our Architecture students from Malaysia put it:

"If an exception is not made for non-EU architectural students, we could study and still not be qualified. It is frustrating for us because we have spent many years in the UK and worked hard with the hope of being a qualified Architect only to suddenly find ourselves shortchanged by the clashes in regulations between the UK Border Agency and the RIBA. I believe British Schools of Architecture should be aware of this situation as it suggests all non-EU overseas students to stop applying to study RIBA-accredited Architecture courses in British Universities."

We would urge the Government to consider the retention of the PSW scheme for students in skills shortage areas and courses where there is a mandatory requirement for work experience in the UK such as Architecture.

We also believe it is vital that the PSW scheme is retained for all existing international students who commenced courses before the publication of these proposals. This is particularly important for those students who are due to graduate this year as many of them have already formulated plans based on staying in the UK. We are glad that the Home Affairs Select Committee in it's recent report agreed that any changes should not effect current students and we hope the Government will listen to this recommendation.

We know that the success of British universities in attracting international students is as a result of "joined up" thinking between the various government departments and the higher education sector. This resulted in intitiatives such as the Post Study Work scheme which have been very successful at attracting students who would have gone elsewhere in the world. In the UK we have a unique offer—as one of our students put it succinctly: "degree + work experience = world class education". This offer, which speaking crudely brings millions of pounds into the British economy is now in jeopardy as a direct result of these immigration proposals.

We support the aims of tackling abuse of the immigration system, but do not see how proposals restricting the rights of international students will achieve anything other than reduce the numbers coming to British Universities.These measures could make international students feel incredibly unwelcome in the UK. This is bad for the UK higher education sector and the wider economy as these students will take their money elsewhere to the US, Australia and New Zealand in the future. Our students feel that they are being made scapegoats for wider, and unrelated isuues with the immigration system:

We recognise the government's commitment to reduce net migration but do not believe reducing international student numbers will achieve the desired policy goals. International students come to the UK to pay for and receive our excellent educational services.

If international students no longer see the UK as the destination of choice they will go elsewhere. We all stand to lose both financially and culturally. Our campuses will be culturally impoverished places while home students no longer benefit from sharing classes with students from all over the world.

In addition there could be huge, long term damage to the UK's economy, as it not an exaggeration to say, as Sheffield's Vice-Chancellor Keith Burnett, recently did, that these proposals could "destroy the research capability of the UK", given that 37% of the Postgraduate Research students at the University of Sheffield are international, many of whom go on to work for leading Britsh companies adding greatly to their research and innovation expertise.

Anything you can do as a member of the Select Committee to raise these concerns with Ministers, or question witnesses on them, would be hugely appreciated. Given we expect a decision from the Governmnet on student visas soon we feel this is a matter of the highest urgency.

23 March 2011

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