Colleges caught up in immigration crackdown
New government proposals will reduce the number of students entering the UK from abroad. Loopholes to be closed – but at what cost to higher education?
'The most significant migrant route to Britain is the student route,' said Home Secretary Theresa May, as she unveiled the government's new regulations for the student visa system. 'We want to attract only the best and the brightest.'
Last year, students comprised two-thirds of the visas issued to non-EU migrants. Mrs May believes the new measures will cut the number of these foreign students by over 25%, which means 70,000 fewer coming to Britain each year.
The new package contains five main strands.
These include changes to the post-study work route; tighter rules on accreditation of private colleges; tougher English language requirements; restrictions on family accompanying students, and maximum time limits of between three and five years for courses.
The main reduction in the 262,000 student visas issued each year is expected to come from the changes in accrediting private higher and further education colleges.
Currently only 113 out of the 700-odd such colleges enjoy 'highly trusted sponsor' status with the Home Office. A new licensing system will determine the fate of the 600 other colleges who rely on overseas students.
While some universities are relieved to find themselves largely untouched by the new announcements, many language schools are fearful.
'We estimate 80% of our students would fail the proposed visa English requirement,' said one language teacher, 'yet once here, 98% of them reach the English and academic level required and go on to British universities.'
And Yvette Cooper, Labour's shadow home secretary, believes higher education is being sacrificed in the cause of lower immigration figures:
'Isn't the real truth that this policy is not about youth unemployment or bogus courses, but about hitting higher education because you can't meet your promise to cut migration to tens of thousands over the course of this parliament?'
Closed for business?
Is this the time for the UK to welcome the world or to close its borders?
The Home Office insists that tackling bogus student visas will help improve the UK's reputation overseas as a place of quality education.
But the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee is not convinced. They say the government is using false data to condemn a thriving industry worth £40bn a year to the UK economy.
'Generating policy based on flawed evidence,' says Keth Vaz, the committee's chair, 'could cripple the UK education sector.'
- 'I don't think we should be educating foreigners.' Agree? Disagree?
- Is the government 'racist' to want to cut immigration?
- In America, the Statue of Liberty in New York harbour welcomes immigrants with a 'beacon of light' and kind words. (See 'Become an expert') Design a monument or write a poem to welcome foreign students to England.
- Do some research and then write a piece entitled 'The pros and cons of isolationism'. What does the UK gain from making students unwelcome? And what does it lose?
Some People Say...
“British colleges are for British students.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- So is this an immigration or education story?
- Good question. It'll have a big impact on both, but it's driven by immigration. Before the election, the government promised to cut it by 'tens of thousands' and education is their best tool to achieve this.
- Yet universities are pleased?
- Some. They're relieved because they feared worse – like losing the post-study work option, for instance.
- What does that mean?
- Foreign students will still be able to live and work here for two years if they can find a job earning more than £20,000 pa. This makes UK universities more attractive to would-be students.
- So education is a competitive business?
- Hugely. The UK putting up this 'Not welcome' sign will delight universities in Australia, Canada and the US. More business for them – foreign students pay high fees – and more of the world's best brains on their doorstep.