Proposal of tougher visa laws puts UK reputation at risk
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Proposal of tougher visa laws puts UK reputation at risk

Proposal of tougher visa laws puts UK reputation at risk

The UK’s Home Office has proposed the introduction of even tighter visa regulations, causing concern for many universities that the reforms will cut foreign student numbers by up to 15 per cent.

It is alleged that the proposals include tougher English language requirements for students from overseas, but many of the UK’s HE institutions worry that tightening visa rules will pose a huge threat to the UK’s reputation as world-leading talent hub.

Head of the Advisory Body on International Students, Mr Scott, described the new language requirements as “pretty extreme”, and warns that if they are enforced they would have a “massively damaging effect” on universities wanting to recruit students from overseas.

Louise Richardson, the forthcoming Vice-Chancellor at the University of Oxford claims that the country will “be impoverished” if foreign students do not feel wanted, and that the UK government should not obstruct students from easily obtaining visas.

She says: “Rather than insisting that foreigners educated here leave on graduation, we should be providing incentives for them to stay and to commit their education and energy to the British economy.”

Her comments come just days after the publication of this year’s Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings, in which 78 UK universities made it to the Top 800, demonstrating that one in ten of the world’s best universities are situated in the UK.

Despite the UK maintaining its leading position, the rankings also demonstrate how first year international student enrolments to the UK fell in 2012/13 for the first time in 29 years. There has also been a fall in the number of students from the EU, as well as countries like India and Pakistan that have a long history of sending talented students to study in the UK.

Recently, the London First Business group made a formal submission to the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), an independent public body that advises the government on immigration issues, stating that tighter visa regulations will also harm the prospects of companies trying to recruit the world’s brightest graduates.

The group said: “Business requires a UK immigration system that is flexible and supports the recruitment of overseas talent, not a system that hinders this process.

“Companies will be forced to relocate these initiatives, many of which are planned well in advance, outside of the UK should access to international graduates not be guaranteed. As a consequence, the positions of UK native graduates involved in these initiatives would be affected.”

The THE data has shown that British universities in the middle of the rankings, that are still considered providers of a world-class education, now face considerable challenge from European institutions, and from Scandinavian countries in particular, such as Finland, Denmark and Sweden which all came top of the board.

Head of the UK Council for International Student Affairs, Dominic Scott, said the proposed regulations would be the “nail in the coffin” for UK institutions who are trying to recruit students from overseas.

Throughout the year, universities have been campaigning for the government to remove international students from the UK’s net migration targets, arguing that overseas talent is increasingly important to the country’s economy, and enforcing tighter regulations would project the wrong message to the UK’s global competitors.

Phil Baty, editor of THE rankings, feels that the UK’s institutions remain a “tremendous national asset”, but he is also confused by the government’s restrictive rules on immigration.

He says: “The bizarre inclusion of international students, in our drive to lower net migration numbers, has sent out a terrible message to the brightest and most ambitious students globally, suggesting we’re closed for business.

Phil Baty, editor of THE rankings, feels that the UK’s institutions remain a “tremendous national asset”, but he is also confused by the government’s restrictive rules on immigration.

He says: “The bizarre inclusion of international students, in our drive to lower net migration numbers, has sent out a terrible message to the brightest and most ambitious students globally, suggesting we’re closed for business.

“We risk damaging the competitiveness not just of our top universities, but of the UK as a whole.”

The UK’s international competitors are seizing the opportunity that has arisen form the UK’s shortfalls, offering classes in English, and providing degree programmes equivalent to those in the UK in terms of quality and reputability. Of course, all of this comes at a much lower price. Richardson also notes how British students may start to seek a “debt free” education from an institution overseas.

For every foreign student in the UK, the equivalent of 0.6 of a job is created, driven by the cost of fees, accommodation, travel and entertainment, but recent research from the Parthenon Consultancy Group has shown that a potential 80,000 could be lost over the next four years due to current UK visa restrictions affecting international students.

Image via Shutterstock.

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