Government student visa policies “directly harm UK interests”

The University of Oxford’s Vice-Chancellor has made pointed remarks about the UK’s new student visa policies “directly harming UK interests” during his annual address.

Professor Hamilton described his difficulty in answering questions from foreign audiences about why the UK has adopted policies so unfavourable to international students.

He said: “Whenever I travel in the world, particularly in China and India, one question persists. Why has the UK adopted a visa system so hostile to student entry? I do my best to answer but, frankly, the question baffles me as well. Why are we doing this to them – and to ourselves?”

The professor joined ranks with other notable academics speaking out against what is being perceived as an increasing issue in the academic world.

In an interview with The Guardian, Professor Leszek Borysiewicz, University of Cambridge Vice-Chancellor, voiced dismay over the increased perception that the UK was no longer a welcoming country to study in.

He said: “When I think of how my parents were welcomed to this country, I find that actually quite saddening. I do feel we are an open, democratic country and we should be setting the standards for the rest of the world, not hindering them.”

Professor John O’Keefe, 2014 Nobel Laureate in physiology or medicine, noted: “The immigration rules are a very, very large obstacle. I am very, very acutely aware of what you have to do if you want to bring people into Britain and to get through immigration, I’m not saying it’s impossible, but we should be thinking hard about making Britain a more welcoming place.”

The idea that the UK is losing out on significant talent due to its policies making it an unappealing place for prospective students is being endorsed closer to home as well.

Speaking to The Student, Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA) President Briana Pegado said: “We agree with Professor Hamilton’s statement, any policy that makes it more difficult for our students coming from abroad is a policy we cannot support.

“Furthermore, it is unfair that UK immigration policy means that international students no longer have the right to stay after their studies.

“International students should be given a chance to pursue a career and a life in a country they have spent their last three to five years in contributing to the local economy, building a life in, and calling home.”

Research published this year by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) corroborates claims that UK visa and immigration rules are complicating efforts to attract more international students. According to the report, for the first time in nearly thirty years, the number of international students in UK universities has fallen. Between 2011 and 2013 alone, there was a 49 per cent drop in students coming from India and a similar 38 per cent decline in students from Pakistan.

However, a fall in the number of incoming students from certain countries may not necessarily point to a greater migration problem.

According to an Office of National Statistics (ONS) report published this year, the number of student visas granted in the year ending June 2014 had actually increased by seven per cent. This was due to greater numbers of university-sponsored applications.

Furthermore, according to the ONS, students currently represent the largest group of immigrant arrivals, with figures standing at 37 per cent.

These statistics suggest that whilst immigration may be being targeted by the government, international students are relatively safe when it comes to the opportunity to study in the UK.

The University of Oxford Vice-Chancellor’s Office declined to comment.

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