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UK universities prevented from recruiting overseas students

UK universities prevented from recruiting overseas students
3 min read

Ahead of his question in Parliament today, Lord Clement-Jones calls for the Government to rethink the “subjective and unfair” visa tests currently dissuading overseas students from studying in the UK.

Higher Education is one of the most important and successful sectors for the UK, contributing at least £10 billion a year in overseas earnings. The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement emphasised the Government’s commitment to “strong growth in students from outside the EU” saying “international students are integral to the success of UK”.

Yet the Home Office seems determined to put every obstacle in the path of our universities in recruiting students from overseas. The abolition of the post study work route visa in 2011 led to a drastic reduction of 53% in student applications from India in particular over the following three years.

Now the credibility test introduced in 2013 has led to many visa refusals for students from countries such as Nigeria and Pakistan. It was originally announced that it would be introduced on a pilot basis but was widely applied almost immediately.

It is highly unpredictable, subjective and often unfair and, combined with circumstances where the threshold for visa application refusals below which trusted sponsor status can be revoked was reduced from 20 to 10%,  has led to huge recruitment difficulties for universities.

The threshold causes particular problems for smaller institutions which do not recruit extensively from outside the EU. Only a few visa refusals can make a large overall impact.

It has now become virtually impossible for students from some countries to come here to study and indeed many universities have ceased trying to recruit from those countries because of the risks involved to their highly trusted sponsor status.

The Home Office appear oblivious to the adverse impact this often arbitrary test is having on our universities and on overseas students.

As Universities UK make clear, refusal of a visa application does not indicate that the applicant was “bogus”.  Apart from the credibility test itself there are a myriad of other, mainly administrative reasons why applications may be refused.

To these overseas students the attitude of UKVI officials and the application of the credibility test has increased negative views of the UK as a place to study and to them appears suspiciously like racial discrimination.

Our competitors like Australia and the US are taking full advantage with student visa numbers particularly from China and India showing substantial increases in each destination.

Now there is some suggestion that the Government plans to take the threshold above which Higher Education Institutions are at risk of losing their trusted sponsor status to 5%. This will only exacerbate the situation and the plight of non Russell Group universities in particular in recruiting overseas students.

The long term aim must be to restore our attractiveness as a destination for overseas students. We should, as so many have consistently called for, exclude these students from net migration figures. We should restore the post study work route visa.

As a first and urgent step however the Government should confirm, in response to my question in the House of Lords this week, that they have listened to the concerns of our universities and have no intention of reducing the refusal threshold to 5%.

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Read the most recent article written by Lord Clement-Jones - Lords Diary: Lord Clement Jones