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HEi-think: Home Office must listen in student visas consultation

UWS Principal and Vice-Chancellor Professor Craig Mahoney

Professor Craig Mahoney, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of University of West of Scotland, considers the potential damage Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s proposed student visa restrictions could cause the higher education sector.

 

On Tuesday (4 October 2016), the Home Secretary said the Government intends to consult universities on proposed new restrictions on overseas students. I sincerely hope this will be a genuine listening exercise because her announcement has some very serious implications for the Higher Education sector across the UK.

Overseas students make an outstanding contribution economically, socially and culturally to the UK. Universities UK say that non-EU students contribute £7 billion to the UK economy, generating almost 137,000 jobs in communities in every region of the UK.

International staff make a vital contribution to our universities and country. The UK has one of the strongest university systems in the world and is in a prime position to build on this and boost the country’s export earnings.

Any suggestion that only so-called ‘good’ courses or universities should be the focus of growth is confusing and requires clarification. Every single university in the UK is externally validated, so the quality of the product is not in doubt. Quality should also be judged on the impact the course has on the student’s life, or the benefit to the university’s local community.

Here at UWS, internationalisation is a major priority for us, as is attracting overseas students. Why then should our aspirations to be a major international player in higher education be restricted? You can’t ask universities to be entrepreneurial and then restrict their ability to attract students, particularly when all the stringent verifications for students attending these institutions are already in place.

Attracting international students brings expertise, non-State-funds and disposable income to regional economies throughout the UK. We risk putting all of that in jeopardy. There is also a strong cultural case to be made for overseas students, in that they enhance our communities and give other students an international insight they wouldn’t necessarily be exposed to.

Researchers from around the globe are attracted to UK universities because they do world-leading research. That affects universities’ ratings in a positive sense and is why the UK has so many universities in the world top rankings. The irony here is that ‘British workers for British jobs’ puts our status as a world leader in higher education under threat.

In addition, I would challenge strongly the Home Secretary’s comments that foreign students do not have to be proficient in English. English language proficiency for all university tier 4 students coming to the UK is a clear requirement and this is also a significant factor in visa applications.

I would urge the Government to think very carefully about the route they have embarked on because it risks causing severe and lasting damage to the higher education sector and the wider UK economy. Overseas students should not feature in the immigration totals – it is completely the wrong approach.

Here at UWS, we will make the strongest possible representations as an institution and work with our partner institutions and through Universities UK and Universities Scotland to persuade the Government to alter its course.

 

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