A British government proposal to bar foreign students from coming to the country to study “low quality degrees,” many of them bringing dependents, has caused a furious row with the country’s universities.
The proposal came amid concerns over record net migration to the United Kingdom.
But Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group of 24 leading British universities, said the proposal “sends the wrong signal about the United Kingdom on the global stage. Worse, it is free marketing for our competitors in Australia, Canada and the United States.”
In a statement made available to Al-Fanar Media, he added that the proposal also contradicted the government’s own international education policy.
Bradshaw also pointed out that most foreign students (97.5%) left at the end of their visas.
Increase in Immigration
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government felt it had to act after Office of National Statistics figures showed a record 1.1 million immigrants had arrived in Britain in the year to June. Many were fleeing wars or conflicts in Ukraine, Afghanistan and Hong Kong, but the largest number were the record 486,868 foreign students granted study visas, 76 percent higher than in 2019, the last year before the pandemic.
The proposal to curb foreign student numbers “sends the wrong signal about the United Kingdom on the global stage. Worse, it is free marketing for our competitors in Australia, Canada and the United States.”Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group of 24 leading British universities
Fueling concerns over irregular immigration, there are also pictures almost nightly on British television of immigrants, mostly Albanians, crossing the English Channel in small boats. More than 11,000 Albanians were detected arriving in the U.K. via small boats in the first nine months of this year, according to government figures.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman promised the last Conservative Party conference that immigration would be reduced to “tens of thousands,” breaking an earlier decision not to put any numbers on immigration. She has referred to the recent increase in Channel crossings as an “invasion.”
But Sunder Katwala, director of British Future, a think tank, said his organisation’s research showed that the British people, who have received immigrants throughout their history, were in fact particularly well disposed towards them at the moment. He told Britain’s Times newspaper that “neither Rishi Sunak nor (opposition Labour leader) Keir Starmer plan to make significant cuts to immigration because of the social and economic benefits it brings to Britain.”
Since Brexit, 51,000 more European Union immigrants have left the United Kingdom than have arrived, but this has been more than made up for by immigration from the rest of the world. Indians (127,530) have overtaken Chinese as the most numerous foreign students, but the 50,631 Nigerian students bring in the most dependents, 51,637. The overall number of dependents has tripled over the past year.
A drop in the number of Chinese students had been expected partly because of deteriorating relations between China and the United States and, to a lesser extent, with other Western countries, including the United Kingdom.
Recruiting Middle Eastern Students
The Universities United Kingdom International (UUKi) organisation has been making efforts to increase the number of Middle Eastern students. For a recent report, it interviewed Saudi students about their experience in the United Kingdom. Saudis are the most numerous of the 30,000 Middle East and North African students in the country, but six times as many have gone to the United States since 2010.
Some of the interviewees said they had not realised how widespread Islam was in the United Kingdom and that there were “lots of people from everywhere.”
“International students help make our campuses a vibrant and diverse environment for young people to learn in and generate funds that are reinvested in our universities and benefit local communities.”Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group
As a result, UUKi recommended a social media campaign highlighting the United Kingdom’s diversity, and Britain’s Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) launched a free app called Myriad so international students could explore opportunities in the United Kingdom.
The moves seem to have had an effect: 29 percent more Saudis came to Britain to study last year, 16 percent more from the United Arab Emirates, and 18 percent more Omanis.
Educational and Economic Benefits
In total, 277,000 people arrived in the United Kingdom on study visas during the 12 months to June 2022, a 39 percent increase which could be attributed to the end of the Covid-19 pandemic and to new graduate visas which allow students to work in Britain for three years after their courses have ended.
Tim Bradshaw, of the Russell Group, said: “The fact that our universities attract students from around the world is an asset for the United Kingdom. … International students help make our campuses a vibrant and diverse environment for young people to learn in and generate funds that are reinvested in our universities and benefit local communities.”
The government defended its proposal by saying of course it supported the country’s universities. But Prime Minister Sunak repeated that “all options” were on the table because of the record immigration figures.
The government refused to elaborate on which degrees it considered “low quality” but said new restrictions were likely on students bringing family members with them.
British university managers are also annoyed because, while Britain attracts the second highest number of foreign students in the world, it is struggling to maintain that place against strong competition from Canada, Australia and Germany. The United States enrols by far the highest numbers of foreign students—nearly 950,000 last year, according to the latest “Open Doors” report from the Institute of International Education.
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