Fee hike slipped in under election'purdah'

April 29, 2005

The Government was accused this week of using international students as "cash cows" as it sought to rush through plans for a 150 per cent increase in visa fees.

University and student leaders reacted angrily to the plans - expressing "astonishment" that they should be issued at a time when government departments are usually forbidden to make announcements as part of the general election "purdah".

UK Visas, the government body that oversees visa charges, has given ten days for responses to its proposal to increase the initial student visa fee from £36 to £85 from July.

Benson Osawe, the National Union of Students' international student officer, said: "On top of their everyday problems, international students are continuously used as cash cows to plug the funding gap in higher education."

Diana Warwick, chief executive of Universities UK, described the move as "the third in a triple whammy set of proposals" - adding to plans for a list of education providers in the UK and new rules for student appeals. In a letter to UK Visas, she says: "I can only assume that your decision to put forward this proposal during the election period was calculated to ensure minimum publicity."

She warns that the higher charges will add to "an increasing perception that the UK is not a welcoming country for international students".

The news came as a survey revealed the extent of problems international students face in accessing basic banking services in the UK.

At an international student conference yesterday, the NUS published the results of the survey, showing that more than half of international students have been refused an overdraft, more than a quarter have no debit card and nearly half are not allowed a cheque book.

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