Lords debates student visas

01 February 2013

Members of the Lords debated the impact of the government’s visa policy on university admissions, yesterday (Thursday 31 January).

Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market (Conservative), opened the debate, saying: ‘The achievements of our universities are one of the major UK success stories. Many are recognised world leaders, comparable to the best anywhere, especially in the United States. Overall our university sector has an internationally high reputation and the demand for places from overseas is strong. Non-EU overseas students contribute over 10% of total university fee income.’

He continued: ‘Overall figures of new entrants from non-EU countries are only slightly down in 2012, by 0.4%. Most overseas students are postgraduates and their numbers are down by 1.9%. Not much, one might say, but I suspect that this is only the start of a trend... Unless action is taken, future years will show a considerable decline in entrants... The UK Border Agency seems to be making students feel as unwelcome as it can. The amount of time, energy and costs that universities are having to use up is high, and all this is now being used by competitors in other countries to imply that the UK is closed for business.’

Lord Howarth of Newport (Labour) followed, saying: ‘The message that comes from government is confused but is interpreted across the world as being that international students are no longer welcome in Britain. As a result, applications are down, particularly among postgraduate students, which is a great worry, and the share of the market in international students achieved by our universities is stagnant when it could be so strong. The best and the brightest, whom the prime minister wishes to encourage, are those who can most easily go elsewhere.’

Baroness Benjamin (Liberal Democrat), chancellor of the University of Exeter, spoke about the economic impact of international students: ‘At a time of financial insecurity we should also acknowledge the positive economic impact that our international students have on jobs and local investment. An independent study that we commissioned from Oxford Economics found that our international students contributed over £88 million a year to Exeter's GDP and supported 2,880 jobs. In the south west economy, that rises to over £104 million per year and 3,280 jobs.’

Lord Taylor of Holbeach (Conservative) responded on behalf of the government, saying: ‘The government have overhauled the student visa regime to tackle bogus providers, which I think noble Lords will fully understand, and to drive up educational quality and standards. The fall in the number of student visas has come entirely from those sectors where abuse was most prevalent. As a result of our tighter controls, almost 600 colleges have been removed from the UK Border Agency's register of providers. These measures have helped improve the reputation of UK education overseas and helped protect students from unscrupulous providers.’

Further information

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