The government’s hardening of international student visa rules could cause long-term damage to Britain’s universities and cost £2.4bn over the next decade, a study claims.
Research by Universities UK, which lobbies on behalf of British higher education, warns that the visa restrictions may mean many more overseas students choose to study in the US and Canada rather than the UK, taking £350m a year in lost revenue with them.
“Such a change would not be easily reversed and, as seen in other higher education systems, the effects can endure across several academic years,” the group says in its annual report, published on Wednesday.
The research cites the recent experience of Australia tightening its student visa rules, with the value of Australia’s higher education earnings falling 5% between 2010 and 2011.
“This could put the UK’s strong position within the global education market at risk and lead to a reduction in exports to the value of £2.4bn across the entire [UK] education sector between 2012-13 and 2024-25,” the report concludes.
The government introduced a series of curbs on student visa applications, which started from 2011 and were aimed at making visas harder to obtain for foreign students on multiyear courses.
The additional checks brought in included harder English language requirements and the imposition of “credibility check” interviews from 2013. About 100,000 interviews are expected to be carried out this year.
Last year, the Home Office reported that student applications for visas to study at institutions outside of higher education – such as further education colleges – had fallen considerably. That suggests the total loss to the UK economy in foregone fees and lost spending could be even worse than predicted.
Immigration minister Mark Harper disputed the report’s conclusions, pointing out that the latest figures show the number of international students applying for visas to attend UK universities has increased.
“Last week’s Ucas statistics show applications from international students are up 5.5% compared to this time last year, and latest figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show the total number of non-EU students at our universities continues to rise,” Harper said.
“However, Universities UK continue to criticise the government policies it initially supported. The UK remains open for business to the brightest and best international students: there is no limit on the number of international students who can come here and graduates can stay and work in the UK if they get a graduate level job.”
The Universities UK report, The Funding Environment for Universities, surveyed individual universities and found that, while the total number of overseas students from outside the EU enrolled rose by 1.5% in 2013, first-year numbers had fallen.
The biggest falls in overseas recruitment involved students from India, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
Saudi student enrolment numbers fell by 31% in 2011-12. Yet at the same time Saudi enrolment at US universities grew by 50% annually.
The report also surveyed universities to gauge the impact of higher fees for UK students.
It found that the number of young applicants to full-time undergraduate courses fell by 5.7%, with mature applicants experiencing a larger fall of 9%.
“This is bad news for fair access – you’re more likely to be studying part-time or be a mature student of over 21 if you’re from a disadvantaged background,” said Les Ebdon, the director of Fair Access to Higher Education.
Source: The Gurdian