Last Wednesday, the British government rejected an appeal made by seventy top university leaders to undertake a review and institute changes to the current student visa regime. The said review and modification, the university heads say, would likely put off students from India and other non-EU countries from going to school in the country.
The said request was made through a letter addressed to Prime Minister David Cameron. In the letter, the university heads highlighted the economic and other contributions of international students to the UK economy and with the current policies, the UK would lose out in the highly competitive international student market unless changes were undertaken.
In a statement, the heads of the educational institutions said, “In particular, we request that international university students be removed from the net migration statistics for policy purposes, bringing us into line with our major competitors. We believe that this would help government by creating a clear differentiation between temporary and permanent migration, help universities whose international character is essential to their future success and help the UK by contributing to economic growth.”
Foreign students form a large part of overall annual immigration figures to the United Kingdom. The recent limits set on student visas were intended to reduce the number of international students and prevent their abuse of the system. Many critics said that counting these individuals as part of immigration numbers is incorrect, as these students only stay in the country are very temporary.
According to Immigration Minister Damian Green, there has been a 62 percent drop in the issuance of student visas in the first quarter of 2012. He rejected the claims made in the letter, saying “public confidence in statistics will not be enhanced by revising the way the net migration numbers are presented by removing students.”
He further added, “Students coming to the UK for over a year are not visitors, numbers affect communities, public services and infrastructure. The independent Office for National Statistics is responsible for producing net migration statistics according to the internationally agreed definition of a migrant which is someone entering the country for more than a year.”
In response, the university head said, “In an age of increasing global mobility, the number of individuals considering a university education abroad is growing rapidly. In this market for talent and export income, the UK performs exceptionally well, with 9.9% of the total market share in 2009 and export earnings of 7.9 billion pounds. International students also play an important role in towns and cities up and down the country and contribute significantly to local economies. There is a clear opportunity to build on this success with forecasts suggesting that export earnings from this activity could more than double by 2025.”
The signatories to the letter sent to the Prime Minister include Shami Chakrabarti, the Chancellor of the Oxford Brookes University and Anil Ruia, the Chairman of the Board of Governors of the University of Manchester. Other signatories include the British Council as well as the Institute for Public Policy Research.