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UKBA’s immigration rules scare international students off

UKBA’s new immigration policies, among them the termination of the UKBA post-study work route for international students (Tier 1) in April 2012, have had a negative impact on British universities, particularly in Scotland. The reason for this reform, as Home Secretary Theresa May puts it, is that it “has become very apparent that the old student visa regime failed to control immigration and failed to protect legitimate students from poor-quality colleges.” Mark Harper, the immigration minister, doesn’t mince his words either: "Too many institutions were selling immigration, not education.”

The figures speak for themselves. Recent statistics released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa) for the academic year 2011/12, show a 23.5% drop in the number of Indian students and a 13.4% drop in Pakistani students studying at UK higher education institutions.

The impact of this reform raises concern at Scottish universities, where student recruitment from India, Pakistan and Nigeria has dropped dramatically – 25.8%, 24.9% and 14.1% respectively. International students are important markets for Scottish higher education, mostly because of the high fees they pay. Drastic immigration reforms and negative rhetoric from the government could thus have a huge impact on the Scottish economy.

However, the Hesa figures show that the overall number of non-EU international students in Scotland increased by 2.2% in 2011/12, mostly due to students from China (21.8%) and Thailand (26.2%). The decline in Indian, Pakistani and Nigerian students could be related to the surge of students studying for degrees abroad, as UK campuses are setting up more and more branches and franchises across the world, as well as increasing partnerships with foreign institutions and promoting online courses. The number of students studying wholly overseas for a UK qualification increased by 13% in 2011/12, representing some 570 665 students, a third more than in the academic year 2009/10.

Whatever the reason for this massive drop in numbers at Scottish universities, it surely rekindled tensions about the on-going debate on the Scottish constitutional status: it offers Scotland a new argument why it would be better off with full powers coming from the Scottish Parliament, rather than from Westminster.

UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa)