On Friday 26 September The Times ran a story with the headline ‘Drop in overseas students blamed on migrant rules’. The report was based on claims made by the University umbrella organisation Universities UK, which is primarily concerned with maximising overseas student numbers in order to further the financial prospects of Universities. While that in itself is not a problem, Universities UK does not concern itself with what happens to students once their studies are over. For too long the student route has been abused and students have failed to leave once their studies are over. This short note addresses some of the claims made by Universities UK and reported by The Times.
Migration Watch believes that international university students bring huge benefits to universities and local communities however it is essential that the majority return home at the end of their studies.
Claim 1: The number of Indian students has almost halved in the past two years, as students from the subcontinent head instead to institutions in America and Australia.
In the year ending June 2014, 12,029 PBS Tier 4 (General) visas were granted to Indian nationals. This compares to 12,598 for the calendar year 2013, 16,107 in 2012, 29,915 in 2011, and 42,140 in 2010 when the present government came to power. However, to talk about Indian students to the UK in the last few years is to tell just half the story.
In 2005 over 18,000 student visas were granted to Indian nationals, increasing to 21,000 in 2006, 22,000 in 2007, and 28,000 in 2008, before soaring to 58,000 in 2009 when the Points Based System was introduced. Any fall in Indian students must be understood in the context of a massive rise in Indian students as a result of student abuse of the immigration system and an immigration system incapable of doing anything about it.
The claim that Indian students are now heading to Australia rather than the UK is slightly misleading. In the academic year 2012/13 11,648 Sub class 573 visas (Higher Education visa) were granted to Indian nationals, up from 8,748 in 2011-12 and 8,715 in 2010-11. However, prior to 2010-11 the number of Indian 573 visas granted was considerably higher. In 2008-09 27,717 573 visas were granted to Indian visas. The Australian government, recognising that the student visa system did not work for all of society commissioned the Knight Review in 2011 which sought to introduce a properly managed student immigration system. Visas then fell. The Australian experience suggests that following visa reform numbers do fall but they also recover. That said, when the purpose of a review is to eliminate abuse, then it is inevitable that numbers will fall and numbers will never recover to what they previously were.
Claim 2: The recruitment of overseas students… was on a strong upward trend until 2011, when the number of entrants began to decline. By the following year, this impact was visible in overall numbers of overseas students, which fell by almost 3,000 to 299,970.
This period prior to 2011 was the period characterised by student abuse. While much took place in the college and FE sector, universities were not immune. The total number of non-EU students enrolling at UK HEIs in 2012/13 (299,970) remains 19% higher than in 2008/9 when 251,310 students enrolled.
Claim 3: Australia, the US and Canada have all seen significant increases in recent years, the report said, at a time when numbers coming to the UK have been in decline. Changes to British immigration rules mean the exemption from credibility testing of students from low-risk countries has been abolished.
The UK exemption of students from low risk countries from credibility tests merely brings the UK into line with Australia and the USA which both require all students to be interviewed prior to a visa being granted. All student applicants to Australia must pass what is known as the Genuine Temporary Entrant Test, or GTE test whereby the immigration officer must be satisfied that the student intends to leave Australia when their study is up and that they are a genuine student. A rigorous interview process takes place at US embassies around the world for those wishing to study in the USA.
In any case, students to Australia are beginning to increase after experiencing a massive reduction due to an overhaul of the student immigration system.
Claim 4: In contrast, immigration reform proposals in the US include encouraging foreign graduate-level students to stay in the country by stapling a green card — for permanent residency — to the diplomas of those qualifying in science, technology, engineering or maths (Stem) subjects.
The UK used to offer all graduates the right to stay on and work in any job for two years regardless of the subject they studied or class of degree awarded or the skill level of the work undertaken??. The MAC described this as the most generous post study work scheme in the world. The UKBA however found that just 25% of students were working in skilled roles with 29% working in unskilled roles and the remaining 46% unclear. The route has since been closed and now any graduate can stay on for four months to search for a graduate level job paying a minimum of around £21,000. This is more generous that the US system which only grants green cards to STEM graduates.
Claim 5: A survey conducted by UUK suggested that a more positive picture could be starting to emerge, however. Growth is being fuelled by students from Malaysia, Hong Kong and China, particularly at post-graduate level. Universities also reported an increase in demand from applicants in Saudi Arabia, Brazil and the US.
This is correct. Indeed, it is this kind of message that Universities UK should be propagating. UUK have harmed their own cause while the government has tried to tell the world that the UK is open to students. There has never been a numerical cap on international students and University students have largely been unaffected by visa changes. In fact, applications for visas to study at a UK university in 2013 are up by 17% since 2010.
Claim 6: On Monday, UUK will make the case for international students to be removed from any net migration target, after the general election, and for enhanced opportunities for them to stay on and work after graduating. It said the Tories were the only main party not committed to this.
If students leave at the end of their studies they are counted out as well as in. The only reason why the student lobby wish students to be removed from the net migration target is because it is now clear that students are staying on in significant numbers. Over the last five years an average of 155,000 students entered the country from outside the EU each year yet the outflow has been just 50,000. This suggests that two thirds of students are staying on either legally or illegally.