For an area of activity deemed sufficiently important to warrant a "Prime Minister's Initiative" in 1999, the recruitment of overseas students is being treated in remarkably cavalier fashion by the Government today. While Bill Rammell, as Higher Education Minister, this week promised to lobby Downing Street for a belated renewal of funding that expired six months ago, he added that he did not apologise for visa changes that may undo much of the work that went into the first highly successful exercise. As Drummond Bone, the new president of Universities UK, pointed out, the US Government is moving in precisely the opposite direction after seeing the damaging effects of its own clampdown.
The UK approach suggests misguided complacency. Unlike almost every other target, this one was exceeded with an ease that may encourage ministers to believe that more support is unnecessary and the impact of visa changes will be marginal. In fact, even without higher visa charges and the loss of appeals, universities would be struggling. Some of the countries that have been the most prolific exporters of students - crucially, including China - are looking elsewhere, notably to their own universities. Academic recruiters need all the help they can get to repeat their successes.