Magazine article Times Higher Education

Licences at Risk under Tightened Visa Rules

Magazine article Times Higher Education

Licences at Risk under Tightened Visa Rules

Article excerpt

'Savage reduction' in overseas recruitment feared after new minister's speech. John Morgan writes

Some universities could lose their licences to recruit overseas students if the government goes ahead with plans to further tighten visa rules, a former Home Office official has warned.

The plans were outlined in a speech given last week by James Brokenshire, the immigration minister, in which he said the Conservatives would plough on with their drive to cut net migration to the "tens of thousands" by 2015 - despite the figure having risen recently to 212,000.

Edward Acton, vice-chancellor of the University of East Anglia, said he feared that Mr Brokenshire's words will herald a "truly savage reduction" in the recruitment of students from outside the European Union by UK universities and called aspects of the speech "embarrassing". Bill Rammell, vice-chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire, said that he could "barely recall a government minister's speech receiving such a strong backlash".

Mr Brokenshire said that the current 20 per cent tolerance threshold of student visa refusals that education institutions are allowed before losing highly trusted sponsor status "may be too generous and we may need to look [at it] again". Newspapers have reported that he wants to lower the threshold to 10 per cent.

The minister added that the "trusted status given to universities and colleges who want to attract foreign students isn't an automatic right", while noting "considerable concerns" about some institutions.

Any repeat of the Home Office's 2012 decision to strip London Metropolitan University of its highly trusted sponsor status and right to attract non-EU students would leave UK universities fearing major damage to their attractiveness to potential overseas students.

Figures cited by The Guardian, attributed to the Home Office, state that reducing the visa refusal rate threshold from 20 per cent to 10 per cent could lead to 105 of the 1,700 educational institutions able to recruit overseas students losing their licences.

Although the bulk of institutions affected would be further education and private higher education colleges, some suggest that universities could also be at risk.

Near the threshold

Don Ingham, a former head of managed migration at the Home Office who now runs Veristat, an immigration consultancy that advises education providers, said: "I would not be surprised to find there were some universities hovering around that [10 per cent] figure. …

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