New push to woo foreign students

April 21, 2006

No-appeal visa regime may thwart initiative, says UUK.

The Government this week launched a drive to recruit an extra 100,000 overseas students by 2011, amid ongoing fears that its new visa regime could undermine applications.

At the Downing Street launch on Tuesday, Tony Blair described the initiative as a "piece of enlightened self-interest".

"It's not just about getting students to choose UK universities and colleges," he said.

"It's about building sustainable partnerships between our universities and colleges and those of other countries."

But Drummond Bone, president of Universities UK, warned that unless the UK got its visa reform right, students could be deterred from coming to Britain.

The Government is introducing a new points system for visa applications as part of the proposed Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill.

It argues that the system will be sufficiently robust to do away with the need to have an appeals system. This has worried many in higher education because there has been a high rate of success at the appeals stage.

Speaking at the launch, Bill Rammell, the Higher Education Minister, said:

"The question of appeals affects a very small number of people. What is important is to get the decisions right in the first place - and the points-based system will be robust and transparent."

He promised that the reforms would be monitored. He also supported a call by Tessa Blackstone, the vice-chancellor of Greenwich University, for better training for immigration officials.

Baroness Blackstone said: "Some of the decisions do not appear to be made in a professional and considered way."

This week's announcement builds on the 1999 Prime Minister's Initiative, which saw ambitious targets for overseas student recruitment exceeded well ahead of schedule. There are about 203,000 overseas students in Britain, contributing about £5 billion a year to the UK economy.

Mr Rammell promised to maintain higher education quality as overseas student numbers grew. He said that the annual national student survey, carried out for the first time last year by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, would be an important check on quality. He also said that the Quality Assurance Agency had an important role in ensuring quality in the UK and in partner organisations abroad.

This second phase of the Prime Minister's Initiative is being funded by Pounds 7 million from the Department for Education and Skills and the British Council. It comes on top of £3 million earmarked for UK/Africa partnership initiatives, £2 million for UK/Russian partnerships and £4 million for UK/China scholarships and partnerships.

Professor Bone added: "This is a timely announcement because our global competitors are stepping up their international activities."

He said that international higher education was a major export industry for the UK that could be worth as much as £20 billion by 2020.



The fledgling UK-India Education Research Initiative this week received backing worth £7.5 million from the Government.

The cash will breathe life into the initiative, which was announced in September last year when the Prime Minister visited India. The aim is to support joint research projects and provide opportunities for staff exchanges, secondments and joint PhDs.

Drummond Bone, president of Universities UK, said: "At a launch in Delhi last month, UK universities were falling over themselves to sign up Indian partners and to get bids in.

"The Indian Government has always been clear that India is not a cash cow to be milked. They want investment and proper partnerships - and this is what this £7.5 million represents."

The initiative has won private sector support, with BP, BAE Systems, GlaxoSmithKline and Shell each committing about £1 million. Tata Group has become the first Indian company to participate in the initiative, offering to support academic visits in key areas of research.

A report from the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education reveals that nearly half of foreign institutions operating in India in 2004 were from Britain. Since then, the UK has continued to enjoy sustained growth in India, with student numbers increasing by 7 per cent to 1,021 last year.

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