Overseas applications hold up despite visa crackdown (UK)

By John Morgan

THE survey shows non-EU students outside India largely undeterred by coalition measures

Indian postgraduate applications to some UK universities with global reputations have plunged by nearly 30 per cent this year in the wake of the government’s crackdown on immigration.

A survey of universities by Times Higher Education shows that across the 18 institutions that supplied figures, there has been an average fall of 8 per cent in Indian postgraduate applications for 2013-14. This compares with a 6 per cent rise in such applications from China – the UK’s other main source for overseas recruitment.

Universities suffering a significant fall in Indian postgraduate applications include the University of Exeter (down 26.9 per cent from 1,073 to 784), the University of Edinburgh (down 27.8 per cent from 1,800 to 1,300), King’s College London (down 15.6 per cent from 1,942 to 1,640) and the University of Roehampton (down 41.1 per cent from 265 to 156).

However, the survey also shows that the overall picture on applications from non-European Union students is more positive.

Undergraduate applications for 2013-14 from non-EU students have risen by an average of 8.8 per cent on the previous year. For postgraduate applications, the rise is 8.9 per cent.

The figures have prompted some to warn that the sector – which has argued that the government’s tightening of the visa regime will deter students from coming to the UK – must not go overboard in its criticisms of the Home Office.

In terms of falling Indian postgraduate applications, universities widely blamed the government’s scrapping of the post-study work option in April 2012, seen as particularly attractive to students from the country seeking to earn cash to repay the private loans that underwrite their studies.

“The removal of the…provision has impacted on a number of countries – India, Pakistan and Nigeria in particular,” said a spokesman for the University of Southampton, where Indian postgraduate applications have fallen by 8.3 per cent.

Students wishing to stay on for work must now qualify through the employment visa route and need the offer of a job paying more than £20,000 a year.

Undergraduates on the up

The overall picture on non-EU student applications looks far better. At the University of Sheffield, undergraduate applications have risen by 16.1 per cent (from 6,449 to 7,488). At Edinburgh Napier University, there has been a 30.5 per cent rise (from 1,095 to 1,429).

Bill Rammell, vice-chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire and a former Labour higher education minister, said the fact that international applications “have held up…reinforces the need for all universities not to exaggerate the impact of government policy, but to present a constructive case on the issue.”

But applications are only part of the picture, as overseas students must gain visas after that – and the Home Office has expanded its use of interviews to test applicants’ English skills and genuineness. Mr Rammell said he was concerned that visa approvals will be down on last year.

At Exeter, overall applications from overseas undergraduates are up 12.2 per cent, from 4,557 to 5,116.

Shaun Curtis, director of International Exeter, said: “The negative impact of the new visa regime has been limited in scale and scope.”

He continued that while some “markets have been affected, most notably the Indian postgraduate taught market”, this was largely a result of the “way in which the implementation of the new post-study work visa has been reported…by the Indian press”.

Dr Curtis added that there was “no need for a repeat of the siren voices that anticipated a negative impact some years ago. We need a visa system that is robust, proportionate, stable and fair – and better messaging around its implementation – if we are to continue to attract the brightest and the best.”

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, pointed out that Higher Education Statistics Agency figures for 2011-12 show that new overseas enrolments, “the clearest indicator of future numbers, dropped for the first time in…years”.

She welcomed “more positive noises” from the government recently, but cautioned that “if the UK wants to fulfil its potential in this growth area, it must present a welcoming climate for genuine international students and ensure that visa and immigration rules are properly communicated”.

Source: Times Higher Education http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/news/overseas-applications-hold-up-despite-visa-crackdown/2008568.article