Student visa debate given voice at Regent’s University London conference

One of the most significant conferences to date on student visa impacts and policy took place at Regent’s University London on 23 October, 2014.

The event brought together members of the Home Affairs Select Committee, UK government ministers and MPs, and representatives from business, foreign embassies, schools and universities.

Presentations and debate focussed on whether the student visa process has become so severe that Britain is now seen as ‘unwelcoming’ to international students, as application figures drop and UK university leaders lobby for students not to be included in net migration figures.

Speakers at the conference presented a diverse range of opinion, all of which has been collated and will help influence future debate on immigration and student visas, which Keith Vaz MP said “simply cannot be ignored.”

Comments included:

Professor Aldwyn Cooper, Vice Chancellor of Regent’s University London

“There is a belief that the UK’s doors aren’t open and that we are no longer welcoming. Should international students be counted in immigration figures? The benefits of having international students here vastly outweigh the costs. Most students want to return to their home countries after completing their studies. We can build on the knowledge of those who stay, and employment competition should be healthy.”

Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP Chairman, Home Affairs Select Committee

“Immigration is a key issue for all political parties and it is important to have an intelligent, balanced and factual debate about visas. Students are not migrants. The vast majority return home after their studies. The Home Affairs Select Committee is not alone in these conclusions. Abuse in the system must be dealt with vigorously. However, we need to defend the hundreds of thousands who arrive here with the simple desire to apply themselves and work hard towards their qualification.”

Vivienne Stern, Director, UK HE International Unit

“The UK is the second most popular destination for international students. The decline in applications from Indian students to UK universities is a serious cause for concern. Overseas numbers are being sustained by an over-reliance on recruiting students from China. There needs to be much clearer recognition that universities are global enterprises.”

Simon Walker Director General, Institute of Directors

“Britain is possibly the greatest intellectual power in the world. It is the constant complaint of vice chancellors that they are losing access to the brightest minds internationally. I’m appalled that universities get caught up in political point-scoring. I would like the politicians to close the gap between perception and reality. It’s very easy to get net migration to ‘0,’ you simply make the country so disappointing that people flock out in droves.”

Gilmar Queiros, Regent’s University London student

“It’s proved less for me to study here than it would in the US, where undergrad fees can run up to $200k. The opportunities here have certainly broadened my mind.’

James Brokenshire MP, Minister for Security & Immigration

“There is no cap on the number of international students who can study in the UK. There is nothing stopping UK institutions growing their international student numbers in a sustainable way, and there is no barrier to studying in the UK. Visa policies are sensible, long overdue reforms. Migrants, whether students or otherwise, have an impact on public services. Bogus colleges operating in this country as money-making scams between 2009-10 had an estimated 50,000 students. For those playing by the rules, the UK is enthusiastically open.”

José Rodríguez Zapatero (former Prime Minister of Spain)

“To say that Britain’s universities are amongst the most prestigious centres of learning in the world is an understatement. A degree from a British university is a passport to excellence. The UK must select the most suitable, qualified and most able students. The main attraction of the education system in my country is the language. Spanish is the second most internationally spoken in the world. Our links with Latin America and the quality of life makes Spain a highly sought after destination for international students.”