11 October 2012

Universities claim British reputation damaged following UK immigration changes

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The Russell Group, a coalition of 24 of the UK's most prestigious universities, has claimed the damage done by UK immigration policy changes is already being felt as application rates drop.

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The Russell Group claim the UK's international reputation as a place to study has been damaged due to changes to UK immigration policy.

As part of its effort to reduce net immigration to the UK to the 'tens of thousands' by the end of the current Parliament, the Government has made drastic changes to UK visa and immigration policy - some of which have affected international students.

Policy changes which came into effect in April place more stringent requirements on English language abilities and remove the right to work following graduation.

Universities have consistently argued that international student numbers, which are worth billions of pounds to the British economy every year, should be removed from net migration stats but the Government has remained firm.

The issue reached a head last month when London Metropolitan University's (LMU) ability to vouch for international students was revoked, leaving over 2,000 students with the prospect of finding alternative institutions to study at, or returning home.

The LMU is yet to be resolved by the Russell Group has claimed the damage has already been done and UK visa applications from Indian students have already dropped by as much as 30% in the wake of the scandal.

Craig Calhoun, recently appointed director of the London School of Economics (LSE), said in the aftermath of the LMU scandal, prospective international students "are worried about the possibility the Government might suddenly and without notice revoke visas."

"If you are a bright student and you have offers from the LSE and Cambridge and Harvard and you haven't got a visa for the UK, what are you going to do?" asked Mr Calhoun, adding that the LMU scandal has done 'untold reputational damage' to the country's international education industry.

Ministers claim the changes are justified due to high levels of abuse within the system; foreign citizens apply to university courses, enter the country and then seek employment instead of studying.

Marissa Murdock, casework manager at the UK Visa Bureau, says ministers need to be aware of the impact policy changes can have.

"The changes made to policy so far have been very heavy handed and the drop in application numbers was predictable," said Ms Murdock.

"Everyone agrees the system needs to become more stringent to limit abuse, but it shouldn't come at the cost of one of the country's most profitable and well respected industries."

The UK Visa Bureau is an independent immigration consultancy specialising in helping people prepare for their UK Ancestry Visa application.

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