A British academic has claimed that the Home Office’s unpredictable visa decisions are an embarrassment for the higher education sector, after international students failed to obtain the authorisation to attend a one-week residential session.
Janet Grant, director of the Centre for Medical Education in Context (CenMEDIC), which delivers an international distance-learning master’s programme in health professions education, said that 16 overseas students were scheduled to visit the UK for a week earlier this year to prepare for their dissertations.
However, just 12 students made it to the country after one student’s visa application was rejected and three others failed to secure the documentation in time. Home Office guidelines state that applicants can apply for a visa only three months in advance of a visit.
Professor Grant said that the student whose visa was rejected was the director of a nursing school in Africa who was told by the Home Office that “his finances were not trusted”.
She added that this was not an isolated incident; in 2016, a student who is also a professor of medicine in South America failed to obtain a visa for the annual trip after UK authorities told him that they “did not believe that he intended to return to his country”. He eventually received a visa in 2017, but the delay “lost him a year of elapsed time on his master’s degree”.
Last month, a Bosnian national at the University of Amsterdam was initially denied a visa to attend a conference at the University of Glasgow because officials were “not satisfied” that she would return home. She was eventually granted permission after media reports on the case.
“It’s mortifying for us…and we spend our time apologising for these decisions. But there is nothing to be done, and no timely challenge to be made to these academically disastrous decisions, which seem arbitrary,” Professor Grant told Times Higher Education.
“There is no stated UK policy that could have predicted these two decisions, which have damaged not only my students, but also the reputation of our course at a UK university.”
Professor Grant, emeritus professor of education in medicine at the Open University, said that the unpredictability of the Home Office’s decisions meant that the residential week cannot be made mandatory for students and that she was considering relocating the session to “somewhere that’s more friendly”.
“I want to keep it here, [but] I do not want the UK to appear to be arbitrary and suspicious of our students when we can vouch for them,” she said.
“It’s bad for the course, it’s bad for the country, it’s bad for universities, it’s bad for the individual students and it casts a shadow over the whole week when some of the students aren’t there. There is then not a level playing field between all the students, which there should be.”
Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University of London, threatened to move academic meetings outside the UK after at least 17 scholars, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, were denied entry to the UK to attend a conference, according to The Times. Several foreign scholars were also denied visas to attend the Global Symposium on Health Systems Research in Liverpool last month.
A Home Office spokesman said: “All visa applications are assessed on their own merits in accordance with the immigration rules.”