Student Visas - Business, Innovation and Skills Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by million+


1.  million+ is a university think-tank which provides evidence and analysis on policy and funding regimes that impact on universities, students and the services that universities and other higher education institutions provide for business, the NHS, education and the not-for-profit sectors.

2.  The UK has a strong global reputation for higher education and the international activities of UK universities represent an important success story. Universities across the UK higher education sector are engaged in a diverse range of successful and long-standing international activities that create mutual benefits for institutions and countries throughout the world.

3.  The Home Office proposals for Tier 4 student visas would have significant negative consequences for universities, students and the UK as a whole and we welcome the opportunity afforded by this BIS Select Committee Inquiry to submit evidence in relation to international student visas.

4.  million+ recently published the substantive report International Higher Education: Missing an Opportunity? which examines the range of international activities undertaken by modern universities. We would request that this is formally considered as evidence received by the Committee in addition to this submission.


5.  Universities across the UK higher education sector are engaged in a diverse array of transnational activities that make a significant contribution to society, the economy and national strategic priorities. UK universities currently teach over 350,000 international students in the UK with many more studying in their home countries; employ international staff who contribute to the knowledge and research base of the United Kingdom; work with international universities and business on collaborative research projects; work with overseas partners to transfer knowledge and expertise for financial benefit and capacity building purposes in developing countries.

6.  The UK has a strong global reputation for higher education and the presence of international staff and students is a vital component of the success of the UK higher education sector. In 2008-09 there were nearly 360,000 international students enrolled in UK universities. The UK had the second highest market share of all internationally mobile students enrolled in OECD countries after the United States.[1] China topped the list of non-EU source countries with just over 47,000 students enrolled in UK higher education institutions in 2008-09 and students from India comprised 14% of the UK's non-EU international students.[2] These international students should not be treated as migrants.

7.  Anecdotal evidence should not be used to apply a blanket restriction on applications for entry by international students to programmes below degree level. A significant number of undergraduate and postgraduate students first come to the UK to study at sub-degree level on foundation and English language programmes in the UK, many of which are operated by private colleges in partnership with UK universities.

8.  The proposals to discontinue the Post Study Work route are cause for particular concern. The PSW has contributed to Britain becoming the second most attractive destination for international students after the USA and is beneficial for business and the UK economy as a whole. International students value the experience of working in the UK before returning home and graduates who have experienced working for UK businesses are more likely to regard UK business favourably. Closure of PSW would also have a significant impact on the number students coming to the UK to study and would put the UK at a disadvantage compared to its other HE competitors.

9.  International students pay higher fees than domestic students and make an important contribution to university finances. They also bring new ideas, skills and talent to the United Kingdom, deepen international linkages and enhance cultural understanding. Over the longer term the international alumni of UK universities effectively constitute a global network of informal ambassadors, a valuable form of "soft power" for the United Kingdom. million+

10.  There are other long-term benefits associated with the presence of international students. In 2008-09,[3] non-EU staff comprised 11.4% of the academic workforce, with key source countries including the USA, China, India and Australia. Of these non-EU members of staff, 37% had previously worked or studied in the UK[4] which suggests that the proposed changes would impact on the recruitment of skilled staff to UK universities. The highest numbers of non-EU academic staff are employed in the fields of Clinical Medicine, Social Studies, and Business and Management. Non-EU staff also comprise significant proportions of all staff in priority STEM subjects such as Engineering, Mathematics, Chemistry and Physics.

11.  International students are integral to the UK's higher education agenda and associated activities which have been and are critical in building alliances and relationships with emerging economies and developing countries. The Home Office proposals for Tier 4 student visas pay insufficient attention to the relationship between international students studying in the UK and the UK's global markets and global policy arenas and risk undermining the competiveness of the UK in the higher education market.


12.  International higher education will play a key role in helping to deliver economic growth and the UK's global competitiveness agendas. Income from teaching-related international activities (including student contributions to the UK economy via living expenses whilst based in the UK) represent one of the UK's fastest growing sources of export earnings and were conservatively estimated at £5.3 billion in 2009.[5] International research collaborations are also of critical importance for the UK's international competitiveness and academic reputation, whilst international staff in universities, and international graduates, provide high-level labour market skills to support economic development.

13.  The international activities of UK universities have important social benefits that are closely linked with other specialist government policy agendas related to foreign policy, national security and international development. They are also linked to other departmental responsibilities such as health, climate change and regional development. Universities are supporting international students and encouraging UK students to gain global perspectives and to study and work overseas. University staff are engaged in capacity building and knowledge transfer activities focused on addressing global issues such as environmental sustainability, poverty reduction and improving healthcare provision. Such activities enhance the UK's reputation overseas for partnering for mutual benefit and represent an important form of "soft diplomacy".

14.  The international activities of UK universities contribute to national strategic objectives. On the international stage the UK's modern universities have established partnerships and collaborations in countries across the world including India, China, members of the EU and other key strategic partners of the United Kingdom. These partnerships are complemented by innovative teaching-focused collaborations in parts of Africa and the Middle East.

15.  Relatively little is known at government level about the international role and contribution of modern universities. The partnerships and international activities of modern universities are wide-ranging, cover teaching, research and knowledge transfer and include collaborations with highly prestigious institutions. Modern universities teach significant numbers of international students both in the United Kingdom and overseas. Through international partnerships and collaborations modern universities are helping to build overseas alliances for local businesses and communities in diverse countries and regions and they are the research partners of choice where they have core research strengths. These can be in new fields and niche areas such as computer gaming, sustainable tourism and automotive engineering, but also areas that contribute to important global agendas such as governance, security, healthcare, and biotechnology.[6] The international role of modern universities should be recognised and promoted by the Government.

16.  The Government has indicated that it is interested in the economic value of the international activities undertaken by UK universities[7] and recognises that these partnerships both increase the UK's influence on the world stage and provide opportunities to attract revenue from overseas.[8] However the UK currently lacks a comprehensive strategy for internationalisation in higher education and Government engagement with the international higher education agenda in England is currently fragmented—and even contradictory. These contradictions are exemplified by Government's proposed changes to immigration policy and visa regulations to restrict non-EU Tier 4 student visas.

17.  This fragmented approach could damage key policy objectives and undermine the reputation of UK universities and the UK as a whole overseas. The Government should therefore develop a comprehensive strategy for England which recognises the value of international higher education to the UK's national strategic interests and economic success.


18.  Universities across the UK are engaged in a diverse array of transnational activities that make a significant contribution to society, the economy and national strategic priorities. International students are a vital component of this international higher education agenda.

19.  The proposed changes to Tier 4 visas risk jeopardising the vital flow of international staff and students to UK universities and have the potential to reduce UK export earnings and damage the UK's global competitiveness in higher education. They also have the potential to seriously undermine BIS policies focused on growing international student recruitment (and its associated export income) and on developing a skilled workforce that can support economic growth and competitiveness.

20.  The domestic and international activities of the UK's universities are inter-twined and they are as important to the UK's strategic and economic interests as the financial, pharmaceutical and manufacturing sectors. The Home Office approach contrasts sharply with that of other developed countries which are taking advantage of the benefits of accelerated knowledge advance by having a more and more internationalised higher education system. The Home Office should rethink its plans.

18 March 2011

1   OECD (2010) Education at a Glance, Table C2.3. Back

2   HESA, 2010. Back

3   HESA Staff Record, 2008-09. Back

4   International Unit (2010). International Higher Education in Facts and Figures. London, Higher Education International Unit. Back

5   International Unit (2010) International Higher Education in Facts and Figures. London, Higher Education International Unit. Back

6   Million+ (2011) International Higher Education: Missing an Opportunity? Back

7   In September 2010, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) commissioned London Economics to establish a comprehensive estimate of the current total value of overseas trade and investment due to the UK Higher and Further Education sectors (including teaching, research, English language training and other training for adults, as well as businesses providing services to these sectors) and an estimate of the total value of the foreign direct investment that those sectors attract. Back

8   BIS (2010) "Estimating the value to the UK of international education partnerships in higher and further education and research: call for expressions of interest". Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, 2010.

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Prepared 18 July 2011