Deputy Editor Charlie O’Keeffe reports on university leaders warning that immigration restrictions imposed on international students may damage the British Economy

Written by Charlie O'Keeffe

The number of students enrolling from abroad has dropped by one third. Universities UK (UUK), a body which represents mainstream colleges and universities, said that this stems from the government’s new policies, as well as visa fee increases.

‘I regret the fact the government appears to want to diminish our success in this area,’ said Vivienne Stern, UUK’s chief executive, on the reduction in international student enrolment. 

‘If they go further, they will damage the economies of towns and cities throughout the UK, as well as many universities. Given we should be doing everything we can to promote economic growth, this seems to be getting the priorities wrong,’ warned Stern.

‘Our new data shows that if they wanted to see a reduction in numbers, they have already achieved that through policy changes introduced earlier this year,’ Ms. Stern pointed out.

A UUK survey of 70 universities found that, since January’s immigration rule changes, postgraduate taught courses have seen international enrolment drop by over 40%. These January rules prevent international students on postgraduate courses from bringing family with them.

…since January’s immigration rule changes, postgraduate taught courses have seen international enrolment drop by over 40%

The threat to the right to work in the UK after graduating is the other factor that UUK stressed. International students are reportedly uncertain whether they will be allowed to work, after the government asked for a review of the policy that international students are entitled to stay for at least two years once their course is completed.

Ms. Stern called on, not only the government, but ‘all political parties’  to reassure prospective international students ‘that the UK remains open, and the graduate visa is here to stay’ in the run-up to the general election.

This story comes after, last summer, Guardian analysis revealed the extent of UK universities’ dependence on overseas tuition fees for their survival. They found that one in every five pounds that UK universities receive comes from international students.

Tim Bradshaw, the chief executive of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities, said that these international tuition fees benefit all students. However, with ‘government per-student funding falling’ the revenue is ‘now being asked to cover increasing deficits in both domestic teaching and publicly funded research.’

Prof Quintin McKellar, Hertfordshire’s vice-chancellor, stressed the benefit of international enrolments. 

‘Overseas students bring vibrancy and energy to our universities. They support courses which we would be unable to offer to our UK students without their recruitment and they greatly support our university finances.’

The University of Birmingham prides itself on its high number of international students, with more than 8,700 students from overseas studying here. Professor Robin Mason praises the ‘vibrant international student and staff community’, calling Birmingham ‘a global university in every sense.’

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