The business secretary has attempted to send a message overseas that UK higher education is planning for “long-term growth” in international markets despite recent changes to student visa rules.
Vince Cable said it was “vital” the sector continued to attract overseas students to the country and reiterated that only “bogus” applications and poor quality colleges were under threat.
His comments in a speech at the British Council follow mounting concerns among universities – especially those that have traditionally recruited heavily from India – that they are seeing a major downturn in applications due to changes in visa policy.
Those changes include the closure of the current post-study work visa in April 2012 and a crackdown on private colleges, both of which are being blamed for creating a perception that the UK is “closed for business”.
“It is vital – notwithstanding the need to prevent any abuse of our immigration system – to continue attracting overseas students to the UK. This is a market in which we excel, thanks to the global standing of our colleges and universities,” Mr Cable said.
“The outside world should know that our academic institutions and our government welcome genuine international students, and are planning for long term growth.
“There is no visa limit on the number of overseas students who are eligible to study here. The recent immigration reforms are designed to cut out the bogus applicants and poor quality colleges which have damaged the reputation of the sector; they are certainly not designed to undermine legitimate and quality colleges.”
Mr Cable also pointed to research from the University of Oxford showing that international students were not generally thought of by the public as immigrants, while arguing that they helped “enhance the campus experience of their UK-born colleagues”.
However, he also said moves such as universities setting up more foreign campuses would become increasingly important, with such “trans-national education exports”, which were worth around £210 million in 2009-10, potentially growing to an estimated £850 million by 2025.