Some institutions are spending nearly £2,400 a year per international student on navigating an “unnecessarily” expensive visa system, a major report has concluded.
The study argues that the sector is paying out around £67 million a year to bring in international students, with the need to constantly adapt to new immigration rules being particularly burdensome.
This is the first time that the cost of the student visa system (changed repeatedly by the coalition since 2011) has been quantified in detail.
Cost and Benefit Analysis Project on Immigration Regulation, carried out by the Higher Education Better Regulation Group, has found that institutions are spending nearly £18 million a year on “governance” – mainly related to “haphazard” migration rules.
It lists 11 changes to the visa regime since April 2011, including tougher English language tests, the requirement for universities to register as highly trusted sponsors, and the introduction of credibility interviews to weed out bogus applicants.
Further headaches for the sector have included the shock revocation in August 2012 of London Metropolitan University’s licence to sponsor international students, reinstated in April, and the scrapping of the UK Border Agency in March.
Universities spend more on senior management deliberation over visas (£23 per student) than they do on advice for students (£18).
The report identifies huge discrepancies in how much it costs institutions to process visas, blaming this on the imprecise nature of the rules. Some spend as little as £46 per student a year, but for others it costs £2,392.
The variations in costs are partly due to providers’ differing “risk appetite”, the report says, with post-1992 institutions spending far more on monitoring international students than the average.
The findings are based on 24 responses to a survey of universities, further education colleges and smaller specialist institutions.
Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, said that “confusion about requirements and constant changes to the visa rules have resulted in unnecessary costs” and called for “policy stability”.
Andy Westwood, chief executive of Guild HE, said that although the report was welcome, it was “unclear” whether it would have any impact on “what has always been a largely political reform agenda”.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The student visa route we inherited was open to widespread abuse…our changes are having the right effect.”