'UK doesn't want us, let's go elsewhere'

Visa proposals are already discouraging foreign applicants, expert warns. Sarah Cunnane reports

March 3, 2011

Proposed changes to the UK's student-visa system will make it harder for the country's universities to expand into new markets, according to a student-recruitment expert.

Anthony Pollock, chief executive of the Australian international student-recruitment agency IDP Education, said that even though the changes proposed by the government had yet to be implemented, some students had already been discouraged from applying to the UK.

"It's already having something of a negative impact," he said. "Students have come to the conclusion that the UK is toughening up and it is going to be difficult to get in, so they are starting to look at alternatives."

Last month, the Commons Home Affairs Committee was warned by Simeon Underwood, academic registrar at the London School of Economics, that a mishandling of visa reform could cause a "collapse" in international student demand.

Two reports, by the Higher Education Policy Institute and the Institute for Public Policy Research, raise similar concerns. In the Hepi analysis, Edward Acton, vice-chancellor of the University of East Anglia, says that the plans to slash student visas, particularly for those aiming for university feeder courses, amount to a "hostile act against Britain's universities".

Mr Pollock said that the UK could learn from the experience of Australia, where visa reform has made recruitment more difficult in newer student markets such as India, China and Vietnam.

But he added that applications from Australia's more traditional student markets, such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Hong Kong, have remained stable.

"Student demand doesn't disappear; it changes focus," he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Pollock said that the US, which is slowly becoming more open to using international-recruitment agents, was "cautious but interested" in the opportunities provided by the approach.

Offering a broad overview of the market, he said that he expected demand for international study to grow steadily over the next two decades, and did not expect it to be too affected by the increase of quality higher education provision in countries such as China and Malaysia.

"What's happening is that the development of supply in those traditional source markets is proceeding at pace," he said. "On the other hand, the development of the middle class and the aspirations that it has for access to higher education is apparently moving faster."

He added: "I can't see the underlying demand for the international experience diminishing below low single-digit growth in the future."

sarah.cunnane@tsleducation.com.

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