Minister rejects claim that immigration curbs will damage higher education

Minister rejects claim that immigration curbs will damage higher education

guardian.co.uk |by Hélène Mulholland

  • Hélène Mulholland, political reporter
  • guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 30 May 2012 05.44 EDT
Students in a common room

Britain attracts around one in 10 foreign undergraduates and postgraduates who study outside their home country. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian

The government has rejected claims that the crackdown on immigration risks deterring legitimate foreign students and losing the British economy billions of pounds a year.

A letter to the prime minister, David Cameron, signed by 68 university chancellors, governors and presidents, urges the government to take foreign students out of net immigration counts amid fears that toughening up the rules on student visas may drive applicants towards institutions in other countries.

They urge ministers to class foreign students as temporary rather than permanent migrants.

Signatories to the letter include the former Liberal Democrat leader Menzies Campbell, who is chancellor of St Andrews University, as well as the broadcaster Lord Bragg, chancellor of the University of Leeds. They also include former Conservative minister Virginia Bottomley, chancellor of the University of Hull, and Patrick Stewart, chancellor of the University of Huddersfield.

The letter – circulated by Universities UK (UUK) –says Britain attracts around one in 10 foreign undergraduates and postgraduates who study outside their home country, according to the Daily Telegraph.

This generates around £8bn a year for the UK in tuition fees and other investment, it is claimed, with the total expected to more than double by 2025.

But UUK told the Telegraph that many risked being pushed towards other countries such as the US, Australia, Canada and Germany.

The immigration minister, Damian Green, said the Office for National Statistics was responsible for producing net migration figures, which were based on an internationally agreed definition of a migrant – someone entering the country for more than a year.

Green insisted the policy did not stop genuine students coming to the UK but said the government was “determined to prevent the abuse of student visas as part of our plans to get net migration down to the tens of thousands”.

“Public confidence in statistics will not be enhanced by revising the way the net migration numbers are presented by removing students,” he said.

Home Office research conducted in 2010 showed 20% of students who came in 2004 remained in the UK five years later.

Green said: “When we announced our full raft of changes to the student visa route, Universities UK said that the proposals ‘will allow British universities to remain at the forefront of international student recruitment’.

“Students coming to the UK for over a year are not visitors– numbers affect communities, public services and infrastructure.”

The letter states: “In this Olympic year, when our universities will be hosting athletics teams and media from across the globe, we urge you to send a clear message that genuine international students are also welcome in, and valued by, the United Kingdom.”

Home Office ministers have introduced a wide range of curbs on the 400,000 overseas students who come to Britain each year to study as part of their drive to reduce annual net migration from its current level of 240,000 a year to below 100,000 by the time of the 2015 general election.

The changes to the student visa system place a limit on the number of years non-European Union students can spend studying and restrict the number of hours of paid work they can do during and after their degrees.

In addition, they are no longer allowed to bring their spouses or children with them unless they are enrolled on a postgraduate course that lasts more than a year.

They claim some universities have already seen the number of applications from India drop by a third this year.

Nicola Dandridge, the UUK chief executive, told the Telegraph the “cumulative effect of all these changes is to present a picture of the UK as not welcoming international students”.

“As competitor countries start to introduce visa changes to attract more international students and academics, we have real concerns about the situation in the long term,” she said.

“Although the UK continues to have one of the strongest higher education systems in the world, in recent years, we have already started losing market share in the face of growing competition globally.

“The reality is that countries such as the US and Australia are taking active steps to encourage international students and are communicating a very different message … It is clear that international students at universities should not be treated as permanent migrants, since the vast majority of them leave the UK at the end of their studies.”

A report by the Institute of Public Policy Research publishedearlier this month said the refusal to exclude international students from the government’s drive to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands was damaging British education and putting at risk £4bn to £6bn a year in benefits to the UK economy.

Higher education ranking: UK ‘10th best’

Higher education ranking: UK ‘10th best’

BBC |May 10, 2012

By Judith Burns Education reporter, BBC News
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The author of a report on international higher education has questioned whether UK universities can remain world leaders without more funding.

The report for Universitas 21 rated the UK 10th best at providing higher education in a ranking of 48 countries.

The study put the UK second for university research and teaching but 27th for spending on higher education.

Universities UK said other more established global rankings regularly put the UK system second to top.

Ross Williams, lead author of the Universitas 21 study, said the evidence showed the UK system was very efficient.

Professor Ross, of University of Melbourne, told BBC News: “The model is that if you want to maintain high output you must maintain high resource levels.

“Think of all the extra resources that are going to higher education in East Asian countries. You are going to have to put in more resources even to maintain your rankings.”

Universitas 21, an international group of universities, claimed the new ranking was the first to compare the effectiveness of national higher education systems.

‘US tops ranks’

Their analysis put the United States top, followed by Sweden, Canada, Finland and Denmark.

The UK was ranked 10th overall despite coming second only to the United States on the strength of the universities themselves.

It came 27th for the resourcing of universities and 41st out of 48 for government spending on higher education.

The report claims: “The difference in ranking between output and resources is the greatest for all 48 countries and reflects very high productivity.”

Universities UK, which represents all UK universities, said it was difficult to compare international education systems – but other more established compilers of world rankings such as Times Higher, QS and Shanghai Jiaotong consistently rated the UK as second behind the United States.

Chief executive Nicola Dandridge said: “League tables cannot tell the whole story… and positions will vary from one table to the next, depending on the selection of criteria and methodology used.

“Based on measures of output and efficiency, the UK remains the second strongest university system in the world after the US.

“It attracts more overseas students per capita than the majority of major higher education systems, and it remains one of the world’s leading research powers measured by total publications and citations.

“However, we continue to spend less as a percentage of GDP than the average of OECD countries.

“We should remain acutely aware that other countries are investing more than the UK and that our reputation as a world-class provider of higher education is not a foregone conclusion.”

Charity tax row: Oxbridge joins revolt

Charity tax row: Oxbridge joins revolt

BBC |April 13, 2012

Oxford, Cambridge and other universities have joined the growing disquiet over government plans to curb tax breaks on charitable donations.

The Oxford and Cambridge vice-chancellors wrote privately to Chancellor George Osborne saying his plans risked undermining the culture of university philanthropy.

UK universities, which raised some £560m from charitable gifts last year, want him to rethink.

Ministers want to stop tax avoidance.

Mr Osborne says he is shocked by the scale of legal tax avoidance by multi-millionaires.

Under current rules, higher-rate taxpayers can donate unlimited amounts of money to charity and offset it against their tax bill to effectively bring the amount of tax they pay down, sometimes to zero.

But from 2013, uncapped tax reliefs – including those on charitable donations – are to be capped at £50,000 or 25% of a person’s income, whichever is higher.

Opposition to the plans has been gathering pace. On Thursday, Business Secretary Vince Cable openly voiced concerns after hearing from universities first hand about how the changes could affect them.

And Oxford vice-chancellor Andrew Hamilton wrote a private letter to Mr Osborne pointing out how reliant the university was on charitable donations.

The leading university raised more than £1.25bn over the past eight years, with many of the gifts topping what would be the yearly £50,000 limit.

‘Ill-considered’An Oxford University spokeswoman said that the government’s own policy emphasised the role of private and philanthropic investment, rather than the public purse.

“A step that penalises the government’s own approach seems ill-considered.

“Oxford’s fund-raising campaign recently passed its initial target over £1.25bn and we are continuing to seek support.

“The generosity of Oxford’s donors provides huge public benefit, contributing to teaching, research and student bursaries.

“We have done our best, along with other universities and charities, to foster a culture of giving in the UK, and this move risks undermining that culture.”

Cambridge vice-chancellor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz has also written privately to the chancellor reflecting similar concerns.

The two universities account for 44.2% of philanthropic funds secured by British universities last year.

Meanwhile Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of umbrella body Universities UK, said the considerable sums raised by universities made a major contribution to what they could offer.

The funds raised were used to offer students support through bursaries, scholarships, to improve facilities and fund research.

“Because universities are the preferred cause of major donors (gifts over £1m), we anticipate that they would be particularly hard-hit by the change in the budget.

“After a period in which universities have stepped up their game in fund-raising, this could undo some of the excellent progress they have made.”

But ministers have said they intend to stick to the plans.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander acknowledged they were proving controversial, but said: “We have put in place a cap on unlimited reliefs, we have done so for the very good reason that everyone should pay a decent proportion of their income in tax and that is a policy that we are going to stick to.”

But he did say the government would work with charities and philanthropists “to ensure the removal of the tax relief does not have a significant impact on charities which depend on large donations”.

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