The changes wrought to the student visa regulations are extremely concerning and almost certain to lead to irreversible damage to Higher Education (HE) in the UK especially in respect of its international reputation, as a consequence of an ill-conceived policy to reduce the numbers of incoming migrants to the UK that plays to popular, ill informed ideology and short-term, self-serving politics at the expense of the country. Students are an easy target, but a false one and do not indicate the changes for which the public may in fact be vying.
The ramifications for HE and the UK economy are likely to be very significant judging from the hard evidence brought to bear on the issue. According to the report ‘Estimating the Value to the UK of Education Exports’ produced by Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the profits brought in by the education of international students represents £14.1 billion, with a projected estimated profit of £26.6 billion by 2025.
Dr Jo Beall, director of education and society at the British Council, has disseminated the findings of a major study with the Economist Intelligence Unit, entitled ‘Impact of Visa Changes on Student Mobility and Outlook for the UK’. This demonstrates that the UK is now seen as having the most restrictive immigration regime of all its competitors, leading to international students taking their business away from the UK towards the USA, Australia and Canada. Nor do arguments against the control of extremism among international students carry much weight, since this not related to international students, as shown in the Home Affairs Committee report ‘Roots of Violent Radicalisation’. Furthermore, according to the British Council, international students ensure the viability of certain disciplines, such as postgraduate biotechnology and engineering courses, where they can constitute 90% of the population (see Times Higher Education, 9-15th Feb 2012 for details).
The weight of hard evidence from these various, highly reputable sources point to a dramatic and deleterious effect on the economy if we restrict international students in this way. We must not, either, forget the importance that a global mix of students brings to the pursuit, creation and sharing of knowledge. Our higher education is an elite export that brings billions to the UK economy and it seems absolutely incredible that the Government is blatantly ignoring this alarming evidence, especially during a time of grave financial hardship and austerity for the country. This evidence cannot be ignored and makes a mockery of misguided arguments that international students represent an abuse of the UK. Instead it is clear that the UK economy and reputation is reliant on international students who have until now sought in great numbers the UK’s elite export: our world-leading higher education, which is rapidly slipping from its hard-earned first position in the international tables, and is a fall that is likely to prove irreversible.
It is most concerning that academics are seemingly accepting these changes, rolling over and aping the actions of a pusillanimous UUK in the face of the Government’s HE reforms. The evidence is there and we need to stand up for important if difficult truths in the face of short term political goals. Our conversation with Phil Baty at the Times Higher indicates that the new editor, John Gill, features editor, Rebecca Atwood, are seeking interest to develop a campaign around this area. Something we feel strongly should be engaged in by all concerned academics.
Prof Jonathan Parker and Dr Sara Crabtree
School of Health and Social Care