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Home Affairs Committee publishes report on student visas

17 March 2011

In a report released today the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee cautioned the Government against introducing measures which could damage the UK’s thriving educational export sector. After a wide-ranging inquiry into the Government’s proposals to reform the student immigration system, the Committee remains concerned that a number of the proposals could have serious unintended consequences.

International students make up 10% of first degree students and over 40% of postgraduate students at UK universities. The international student market, estimated to be worth £40 billion to the UK economy is a significant growth market and the UK is the second most popular destination in the world for international students.

The past experiences of the USA and Australia in reforming their visa system highlight the sensitivity of the international market in education, contributing at least in part to a fall of 18.9% in Australian student visa applications between 2008–09 and 2009–10.


The Committee therefore:

  • notes the importance of the Post-Study Work route in attracting students to the UK and disagrees with the Government proposal to close it
  • suggests alternatives to the Government’s proposals on language requirements, specifically a permanent change to the parameters of the student visitor visa so that it can be used as a viable route for all of those attending pre-degree programmes
  • supports the Government’s proposals to tighten the accreditation of language schools but is concerned that Government approval of the current accreditation bodies has lapsed. The Committee calls for a single streamlined accreditation system
  • agrees that any cap on student visas is unnecessary and undesirable
  • the Committee notes that progress has been made on closing down bogus language schools and supports the Government’s intention to crack down on bogus colleges and bogus students
  • is not persuaded that students are migrants, as defined by the UN and suggests that students ought to be excluded from net migration numbers
  • raises concerns that the data used in assessing migration figures are not fit for purpose and could inhibit effective policy making. The implementation of a new data collection system needs to be a priority for the Government
  • intends to further examine the regulation of the student immigration system as part of its ongoing scrutiny of the United Kingdom Border Agency

Rt. Hon Keith Vaz, Chair of the Committee said:

"Students are not migrants. They come from all over the world to study here, contributing to the economy both through payment of fees and wider spending. Whilst we are right to seek to eliminate bogus colleges and bogus students, we need to ensure that we continue to attract the brightest and the best.

The Government’s policy ought to be evidence-based. Generating policy based on flawed evidence could cripple the UK education sector. In the case of international students this could mean a significant revenue and reputational loss to the UK. We strongly urge the Government to examine the data which it currently uses to extrapolate migration figures and recognise that for any genuine student the doors to Britain’s fine education institutions are always open. If the door is shut they will simply study elsewhere."

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