Noble Lords will appreciate that just as there are several factors influencing the promotion of the UK as a study destination, there are many factors which influence a student’s choice of course and institution and country. There has been particularly strong and continuing growth in the Indian higher education capacity, from 250 universities and 12,500 colleges in 2000-01 to around 700 universities and more than 35,000 colleges today, with a comparable increase in domestic enrolment rates. Around 45 UK institutions have a presence in India in the form of a representative office or individual, and all are investing heavily in resources to market their brand. These offices also manage alumni and partnership opportunities for their universities, thus contributing to the efforts of marketing the UK as a favoured study-abroad destination.

So that we can get a much clearer understanding of the reasons for such a drop in international students from India, Greg Clark and James Brokenshire now jointly chair a UK-India visa group which convenes every three months with Mr. Ranjan Mathai, the Indian High Commissioner to the UK. The aim is to ensure that our existing visa rules are being applied correctly by discussing specific cases of individual difficulties brought by the Indian High Commission, to promote our excellent student visa offer, and seek to tackle the negative perceptions through targeted communications. We are making it clear that there are plenty of opportunities for Indian students who wish to stay to work after graduating in the UK, with no limits on their numbers.

Perhaps I may now turn to the specific questions put to me by noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said that the exchange rate may have affected the number of STEM students coming here, but he also pointed out that the USA and Australia exchange rates have also fallen, so why have not their numbers? It is difficult to determine an answer. As the committee has recognised, many factors influence prospective international students when they are deciding where they would like to study, and it is not easy to tease out their motivations with any great certainty.

Most noble Lords asked about the post-study work route and expressed concerns about the short period of time that students on graduating have to remain in this country, as well as the level of starting salaries. The Government are committed to enabling the best

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international graduates to access the labour market. The old tier 1 post-study visa allowed too many students to end up in low-skilled and unskilled jobs or being unemployed. As I have already mentioned, in 2009 more than 38,000 graduates were given post-study work visas which gave them unconditional access to the labour market for up to two years. This was absurdly generous at a time of high unemployment in the UK.

We have replaced the post-study work visa with a selective system. All students studying a course for a year or more will have four months at the end of their course which they can use to search for a graduate-level job with a company holding a tier 2 licence. Those entering tier 2 in this way do not count against the annual tier 2 limit of 20,700 places. We have also waived the requirement on employers to test whether a suitable resident worker is available. It is easy for businesses to become tier 2 sponsors; they can apply online and the application takes just 30 minutes. That has been questioned, I know, by the noble Lord, Lord Rees, and so I stand corrected if that is not in fact the case.

The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, mentioned the milk round, which is an excellent way for companies and businesses to recruit students. I remember the milk round, and it is a way in which many students can secure jobs before they have even graduated, therefore putting them on the route to employment before the four-month clock starts ticking.

The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, mentioned the Sirius programme. If you look on the website, you will see that the Sirius programme is no more. That is because it was a pilot scheme, and the pilot is currently closed to new applicants. As he will know, it was a competition that invited applications in 2013 and 2014 and applications were received from over 93 countries. It is now being evaluated and we need to learn from the pilot before we can say what will happen in the future, but—there is no doubt about it—it has been a very popular initiative.

The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, mentioned a case study of a Canadian student, which is in the Select Committee report. The student in question could apply for a tier 2 visa and would be subject to the residential labour market test. The speciality that the student had chosen at that time was one where training places were, I understand, heavily oversubscribed, so the complaint is essentially that the places would be taken by resident workers before the student was able to apply. The NHS does choose to manage the RLMT by having two application rounds, with only resident workers being allowed to apply in round one. If the noble Lord would like any more detail on that, I am very happy to give it to him. Interestingly, there was no policy change in 2013 that would have changed the situation. Before April 2012, the student could have started her speciality training under tier 1 with no need for the RLMT, but this had already closed by the time that she finished her foundation training in August 2012. However, I am happy to write further to the noble Lord if he should wish.

Many noble Lords talked today about the difficulty in getting visas. We do not accept that the UK’s immigration rules are deterring international students and there is no clear evidence in the report to support that argument: where some courses and countries have

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seen falling numbers, other countries and courses are on the rise. As I have already outlined, visa applications continued to rise in 2014, with a significant increase for the Russell Group universities.

The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, asked about research by government to ascertain the views of students and the student experience. The International Education Council has commissioned a working group to look at the student experience and hear first-hand views from international students on what practical things we can do to remove barriers. The stakeholders will report once they have completed their project.

Time is running out; I am going to have to write to some noble Lords. My noble friend Lord Dundee talked about the recent improvement in numbers of Indian students. I have already covered the point on India.

My noble friend Lord Selborne talked about the tier 5 temporary worker visa, which is for 12 to 24 months. That is certainly a route for some international students. As a country and as a Government, I think that we need to do more to help employers understand the options open to them.

My noble friend Lord Dundee asked a question on entrants for STEM and non-STEM. In 2003-04, for STEM there were just over 39,000 entrants; in 2013-14, there were just over 56,000. For non-STEM, back in 2003-04, there were 72,500 entrants; in 2013-14, there were just over 123,000.

The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, asked about graduate entrepreneur visas and how many were issued in 2013. Some 171 were issued in 2013. He commented that that was quite a low figure and, given that it was such a good scheme, he asked whether we could do more to promote it. I totally agree with the noble Earl on that.

My noble friend Lord Selborne asked about tier 4 and whether the doctorate extension scheme is too complicated. The Home Office reports that 434 doctorate extensions were granted in 2013.

I have run out of time. I apologise—I know I have not answered all noble Lords’ questions because there was more to come. I thank all noble Lords for taking part in this very interesting debate.

5.26 pm

Lord Krebs: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who took part in this debate for their tremendous contributions. I particularly congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, on his excellent maiden speech. He made some immensely interesting points and revealed the advantage of having a chemistry degree from an ancient university.

I also thank the Minister for her response. The one area where we did not quite get the answer that we might have hoped for was on the four-month limit in the post-graduation time to acquire a visa. I hope that whoever is in government after the May election will look at that again, because the evidence is overwhelming from all sides that four months is just too short. As the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, said, with the milk round and the annual cycle of companies in recruiting, four months just does not work. As Sir Andrew Witty said, it does not leave students with enough time. I hope that will be reconsidered in future.

Motion agreed.

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Health Service Commissioner for England (Complaint Handling) Bill

Order of Commitment Discharged

5.27 pm

Moved by Baroness Finlay of Llandaff

That the order of commitment be discharged.

19 Mar 2015 : Column 1220

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB): My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been tabled to the Bill and that no noble Lord has expressed a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Unless, therefore, any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.

Motion agreed.

House adjourned at 5.28 pm.