Impact of British Visa Rules

Universities see gains in applications, despite tougher regulations, but many institutions see sharp drops from India.

May 31, 2012

Applications from overseas students have risen by up to 26 percent at some major British universities despite the government’s tougher visa rules that many feared would discourage interest. But the number of Indian applications for graduate programs has fallen dramatically at several institutions.

Times Higher Education ­surveyed universities in the Russell Group (research universities) and Million+ (a group of institutions that relatively recently achieved university status) on their applications from non-European Union students for 2012-13. The results offer some indications of whether the government’s visa tightening is making Britain less attractive to overseas students -- ­ a subject of intense debate at the highest levels of the coalition government.

The latest immigration statistics, revealed last week, show that the government is struggling to bring down net migration into Britain, fueling worries that it could take further action in the area of student visas.

Seven Russell Group and four Million+ universities supplied figures on their total applications from non-EU students. Data for the 11 institutions show an average increase of 9.4 percent in applications from non-EU students for 2012-13, compared with the same point in the 2011-12 admissions cycle. The Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow have generated huge rises of 26 and 19 percent respectively (to 30,513 and 19,519).

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, said: "Although application figures for this year appear to be holding firm, they do not reflect the full impact of the changes, many of which have just taken effect.” She warned of concern that "persistent, negative publicity surrounding visa changes will begin to bite in the near future," which "could be hugely damaging for many universities that had planned on expanding their numbers."

At some universities, graduate applications from India have dropped dramatically, with universities blaming the closure of the post-study work visa. This could present a major problem given that India is the second-largest source of overseas students for British universities, behind China, and the largest for overseas graduates students.

At the London School of Economics, graduate applications from Indians have fallen by 20 percent, a decline mitigated by a 15 percent rise in applications from ­China. At Edinburgh and Glasgow, the decline in this category is about 10 percent.

In April, the government withdrew the visa option for non-EU students to stay in Britain to work for up to two years post-graduation. Now students must have offers of graduate-level jobs, paying at least £20,000 a year, prior to the expiration of their student visas if they wish to stay on to work.

Pragyat Singh, head of the University of Wolverhampton’s South Asia Regional Office, noted that competitors such as Australia, Canada and New ­Zealand offer post-study work options, meaning that Britain “just cannot compete in this market."

He added: “It is extremely important to understand who the consumer for UK universities is. It is the rising middle class from places such as India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. They aspire to higher education in order to procure better jobs and career opportunities. They need a job overseas to pay back [the loans] as local ­salaries just do not match up.”

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