Theresa May’s policies as home secretary have “butchered” the UK’s relationship with India and have led to the first-ever decline in overseas student numbers, a vice-chancellor has claimed.
But the University of East Anglia’s Edward Acton has declined to blame the downturn for the closure of the institution’s London campus, which lost £7 million in its first three and a half years.
Professor Acton said that Home Office rhetoric on immigration was having “a horrible, negative effect” abroad, ruining institutions’ efforts to recruit international students.
“Mrs May’s policy of treating university students as immigrants to be discouraged by endless pinpricks, insults, red tape and negative vibes from the Home Office has stopped the growth in UK recruitment [of overseas students] dead in its tracks,” said the vice-chancellor, who led Universities UK’s lobbying for international students to be removed from government immigration targets.
He was speaking after figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency revealed that the number of non-European Union students at UK universities fell by 1 per cent last year: the first such decline since records began in 1994-95.
They also show a 25 per cent drop in the number of Indian first-year students starting courses in 2012-13, meaning that the number of Indian entrants has halved in just two years – from 23,985 to 12,280.
“India is going to be by far the biggest market, along with China, as the century progresses, and Britain has a natural affinity [with India],” Professor Acton said. “Mrs May has just butchered it.”
He concluded that there was “not a hope” that the UK could maintain its market share of higher education without a change of home secretary.
A Home Office spokesman said that the Hesa statistics were “already out of date” and noted that the government’s own statistics showed a 7 per cent rise in the number of student visa applications in 2013.
Mark Harper, the immigration minister, said: “UK universities are continuing to attract the brightest and best students from around the globe, and there is no limit on those allowed to study here.”
Despite his anger with Home Office policy, Professor Acton refused to blame the drop in overseas student numbers for the closure of UEA’s London campus, which will cease offering courses from September.
The campus currently has 325 higher education students. It is a joint partnership with INTO University Partnerships, which works with higher education institutions to offer pre-university courses to international students.
When it was opened in 2010, Professor Acton said that improving UEA’s attractiveness to students from abroad was one of its objectives.
However, he told Times Higher Education that the general fall in international student numbers was unrelated to the decision to close. “Our own recruitment has been healthy…but the momentum of the campus in Norwich…makes us really keen to focus our energies here,” Professor Acton said.
UEA’s financial accounts show that the London campus made losses of £7 million between January 2010 and July 2013, but Professor Acton stated that finances had played no role in its closure.
“The financial fruits would have lain ahead,” he said. With UEA focusing on its Norwich activities, London had become “a diversion of academic and administrative energy”, he added.
INTO will still operate from the London building, despite the closure.