Student visa rules have been called into question at a conference hosted at Regent’s University in London.
Attended by over 70 universities and with representatives from 45 countries, the conference brought together key figures from business, education and government and was co-hosted by the Home Affairs Select Committee.
The statements come in the same month that Professor Andrew Hamilton, vice-chancellor of Oxford University, slammed the current student-visa policy as harmful to the UK.
Simon Walker, director-general of the Institute of Directors, echoed these sentiments, claiming that restrictive policies were damaging the UK’s international reputation as an accessible world class centre for education.
Walker went on to claim that such policies led to “damages for the country in every sense” while accusing politicians of getting embroiled in “political point scoring”.
Much of the wider debate comes amid concerns about the inclusion of international students in the government’s annual net-migration figures; something that the current administration has pledged to reduce.
James Brokenshire, minister for Security and Immigration at the Home Office, responded by claiming that the policy is simply in compliance with standard United Nations immigration measures.
Stating that “for those playing by the rules, the UK is enthusiastically open”, he pointed out that other countries such as Australia, the United States and Canada have similar policies. However, former Conservative minister Lord Heseltine told the BBC back in August that he backed the exclusion of foreign students from these figures.
Claiming that international students brought “huge financial stability” to British universities, he went on to describe such students as a “huge asset” to the country.
Leading figures have already noted the impact of these policies on inter- national student numbers to the UK.
At the conference, Vice-Chancellor of Regent’s University Professor Aldwyn Cooper voiced the concern that students were turning to other countries to get their education.
Cooper went on to state: “Unless we take steps to be more welcoming, we are going to lose contribution to revenue.”
He also noted that while at present one out of ten world leaders was educated in the UK “I don’t think it will be anything like this in ten years’ time”.
The UK Higher Education International Unit, the body that promotes British universities overseas, has also highlighted the drop in Indian students coming to study as a “serious cause for concern”.
This comes in the same week that saw the release of a study by the Higher Education Funding Council for England which showed a drop in the number of international students coming to study in England for the first time in thirty years.
Keith Vaz, chairing the Home Affairs Select Committee, said that immigration debate was absolutely necessary. However, he went on to state that “students are not migrants” and that the issue would benefit from more “intelligent, factual debate” about student visas.