International students matter. These students are vital to the financial stability of UK universities – they are worth over £8billion in tuition fees alone. Overall, international students are estimated to be worth of £14billion to the UK economy, creating jobs, advancing research, and providing powerful global connections for business and diplomacy.
The Olympics has been a fantastic showcase for London and the UK. This positive image of the UK is currently being undermined by a visa crisis at a north London university, which is receiving media coverage around the world. The decision by the UK Boarder Agency to strip London Metropolitan of its right to teach international students has left international students, many in their final year of study, unable to complete their courses. Through no fault of their own these students face deportation if they cannot find another institution at which to resume their studies.
The Vice Chancellor of London Metropolitan has continuingly argued that UKBA’s decision damages the reputation of all UK universities. This has been the case for neighbouring City University, whose reputation has been damaged in China due to a translation error, which incorrectly connected the two universities in the Chinese Media.
The threat to UK universities’ global reputations is a very serious one. The recent discontinuation of the post-study work visa has negatively impacted the sector and is linked to a fall in applications from international students, with many universities reporting a 40% decrease in applications.
In addition to issues around visas, last summer’s riots and the high profile murder of India student in Salford have both contributed to making the UK a less attractive destination for international students.
International students from India are particularly important to UK higher education. India accounts for a third of all non-EU students in the UK. Until recently numbers of students coming from India to study in the UK had been rising sharply.
India is an attractive higher education market. Most students learn through English at secondary schools and in higher education. As the new India middle class grows, so too does the demand for higher education. India has limited local capacity. India boasts some truly excellent universities, but competition for places is fierce. Typically, at the top Indian universities there are around 700 qualified students chasing 1 place. To put this in context, at Stanford in the USA the ratio is around 13:1.
UK universities have been working very hard to capitalise on this. They face competition from universities in the other countries, notably the USA, Australia, and New Zealand. India is a lucrative market but one that should not be taken for granted.
Senior politicians have indentified India as a key emerging economy to develop closer links and partnerships with. It is farcical for Cameron to go on trips to India in order to build links for UK business while continuing to pursue immigration policies that undermine this.
In a letter to David Cameron, Eric Thomas, Vice Chancellor of Bristol and President of Universities UK, suggests that “the UK seems to be telling the world that it doesn’t welcome international students.” And this was before the London Met visa fiasco.
International students make valuable economic, cultural and social contributions to the UK. They deserve better from the UK government.