Published on April 29, 2013 | by Zoha Tapia


Strict student visa rules spell bad news for universities

Students expressing concern

Students expressing concern (pic: Amnesty International/flickr)

UNIVERSITIES are up in arms over Home Secretary Theresa May’s plans to further limit international students entering the United Kingdom amid the falling number of student applications.

The government’s tough stance on international student visas are deterring thousands of students from considering the UK as an education destination instead looking to friendlier markets like the USA and Australia.

After the crackdown on London Metropolitan University, Teesside University and Glasgow Caledonian University, Mrs May further endorsed the UK Border Agency’s (UKBA) interviewing programme. She announced that it would “increase the number of interviews to considerably more than 100,000 starting next financial year”, at a keynote speech on immigration in December.

The government’s increasingly tough rhetoric around immigration is threatening to deter thousands of talented international students from studying at UK universities. This move will undermine the multi-billion pound market in foreign students, according to the head of the group that represents British universities.

The hard line approach towards students has already seen a drop in the number of non-E undergraduate students (UCAS statistics) and, for the first time in 16 years, a 1% drop in non-EU postgraduate students (Higher Education Statistical Agency statistics).

With the ONS figures showing a 26% fall in the number of student visas issued, Universities UK said the downward trend is expected to further accelerate.


Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, responded to the migration figures: “The fall in net migration is largely due to a decrease in international students coming to the UK.

“These figures include students studying in further education, English language schools and colleges as well as in higher education institutions.

“However, it appears that legitimate university sponsored student numbers are now being affected.

“The figures are particularly stark given the context of rapid growth in the international student market.”

Considering international students bring in £8billion a year into the economy, she said that “we must be concerned about any drops” and that suggested that the decrease isn’t “solely a question of tuition fees in England putting student off from applying”.

British Council Director of Education and Society Dr Jo Beall said: “We have strong concerns about the Home Secretary’s announcement that UKBA will conduct ‘considerably more’ than 100,000 interviews of prospective students in countries that are deemed to be ‘high-risk’ for abuse.

“The UK’s universities and colleges themselves are the best judge of who is the right student for their institution, and they must be allowed to take responsibility for recruiting their own students.

“By adding to the hurdles of applying to the UK, this measure risks putting off genuine students and making our competitor countries seem far more attractive.”

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Key facts and figures

  • International non-EU students make up 11% of the total students enrolled in UK higher education courses while  EU students make up 15%, according to a Times Higher Education survey.
  • Overseas students are estimated to bring £8billion a year into the economy according to a study by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
  • The latest UCAS figures showed a 0.8% fall in the number of non-EU applications intending to start their studies in 2013, compared to the 11.8% increase in 2011.
  • In September 2012, the total number of issued student visas fell by 26% and a 29% decrease in the number of sponsored student visa applications.
  • Higher Education Statistical Agency (HESA) showed a 1% drop in enrollments in the 2011/12 academic year.
  • In March 2012, net migration fell from 242,000 to 183,000.
  • The International Passenger Survey said the number of non-EU citizens migrating to the UK for study purposes was 163,000 in March 2012 compared to 175,000 the year before.

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Reference links:

UKBA’s quick guide to studying in UK

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