True cost of visa changes

August 11, 2011

Terry Butland's warning about the damage being done to overseas recruitment by new visa rules comes as no surprise to anyone operating within the international education sector ("Middlesex braces for 50% drop in Indian recruitment as sector fears a trend", 4 August).

Feedback from our agents across the world indicates that a decidedly negative perception of the UK's attitude towards international students prevails, largely because of the confusion caused by constant changes to the visa system - a perception that will not be reversed by grand gestures such as David Willetts, the universities and science minister, travelling to Brazil to recruit South American students en masse.

The recent Home Affairs Committee report suggested that Tier 4 visa revisions will cost the UK economy £3.6 billion (a figure later rejected by Theresa May, the home secretary, as being "too high").

However, if you consider Butland's prediction that Middlesex University alone stands to lose £5 million just from the drop in the number of Indian students, and take into account the fact that there are 300 institutions accredited by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, £3.6 billion seems a little conservative.

The sector's forecasts for a 25 per cent real-terms growth in overseas fee income by 2013-14 now seem like great expectations. Universities need to start considering specialist public-private partnerships in order to secure the best international students and the associated tuition fees, especially now that they may face increased competition from smaller, specialist colleges that have been granted university status.

Michael Cornes, Operations director, UK Study Group

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