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UK’s Home Office is said to have modelled a cut in international student enrolment by up to two-thirds

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The UK’s Home Office is thinking of significantly reducing the number of foreign students coming in to the country to study, reported Times Higher Education (THE).

According to its sources, the Home Office is modelling a drastic reduction of non-EU students, from about 300,000 to 100,000 across UK universities, which is believed to be “the most severe scenario possible”.

The modelling is said to complement its plans to introduce a “two-tiered visa system” for student recruitment across all universities.

Rumour has it that the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), which rates universities based on teaching quality, will be used to determine the number of international students an institution is allowed to accept per intake.

Universities awarded a gold rating can increase its intake of non-EU students, those with a silver rating can maintain the same number of students, while those earning a bronze rating would see its overseas student quota reduced.

Based on recent comments by Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson, however, who said “we want compliance to be a strong feature of our system”, the Home Office may also be considering using universities’ visa refusal rates rather than the TEF to evaluate quality.

Despite protests from those in the higher education sector, the government seems determined to continue including international students in its net migration figures.

Pam Tatlow, chief executive of university think tank MillionPlus, told THE: “The introduction of a policy of differentiation in visa regimes will have the effect of reducing international student numbers, so it would hardly be a surprise if the Home Office was modelling a significant reduction in numbers.

“This is why the assertions of ministers that there is no cap on student numbers are wearing increasingly thin.”

Also commenting on the issue, Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, called differentiation “a truly absurd idea and is yet more evidence that the Home Office does not understand the importance of international students to our diverse sector, or to the country. Every university has some world-class courses – some universities that lack prestige actually lead the world in one or more fields.”

However, when asked to comment on whether there were any grains of truth to the rumours, a Home Office spokesman told THE in a statement echoing Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s speech at the Conservative Party conference last month: “We welcome international students who want to come to the UK to study at our world-leading educational institutions, and we are committed to making sure we can attract the brightest and the best to do so. At the same time we must make sure that what we offer brings real benefits to this country.

“We are considering what more we can do to strengthen the system to support the best universities – and those that stick to the rules – to attract the best talent. This is not about pulling up the drawbridge to international students but making sure those students that come here, come to study.”

Image via Reuters

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