UK government to toughen student visa rules for 'low quality' courses

Home secretary says government will support 'best' universities

October 4, 2016

The UK government plans to introduce tougher rules for overseas students coming to Britain to study “low quality” courses, instead prioritising the “best” universities.

Amber Rudd, the home secretary, said the government will consult on changes to the “student immigration” system in her speech at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham today.

The proposal for further tightening of student visas is likely to be of huge concern to many in UK higher education, who see overseas students as a vital source of income to all universities as well as a major contribution to the UK economy and British “soft power”.

Ms Rudd reaffirmed the government’s commitment to reducing net migration into the UK to the “tens of thousands”.

As part of this, she said the government would be “looking for the first time at whether our student immigration rules should be tailored to the quality of the course and the quality of the educational institution”.

Ms Rudd added: “The current system allows all students, irrespective of their talents and the university’s quality, favourable employment prospects when they stop studying.”

She said the government would consider whether the “one-size-fits-all approach really is right for hundreds of different universities who run thousands of different courses across the country”.

And she added: “We need to look at whether this generous offer for all universities is really adding value for our economy.”

Ms Rudd continued: “I’m passionately committed to making sure our world-leading institutions can attract the brightest and the best. But a student immigration system that treats every student and university as equal only punishes those we should want to help.

“So our consultation will look at what more we can do to support the best universities and those that stick to the rules, to attract the best talent, while looking at tougher rules for students on lower quality courses.”

Ms Rudd also said following her remarks on overseas students that she wanted to send a “warning to those that simply oppose any steps to reduce net migration. This government will not waver in its commitment to put the interests of the British people first.”

She did not offer any signal on what method the government would use to identify “the best” universities. But there will be speculation that the teaching excellence framework, which will award universities ratings of “bronze”, “silver” and “gold”, could be used.

Universities will be concerned that Theresa May’s elevation to prime minister from home secretary – where she sought to tighten the visa regime for students – has brought about a dramatic escalation in the government’s willingness to not just toughen the student visa regime but also to take a differentiated approach to different types of university.

After Ms May became prime minister, the Home Office announced a pilot scheme in which master’s student applying to the universities of Bath, Cambridge, Oxford and Imperial College London would be given preferential treatment on visas.


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Reader's comments (4)

NUS and those battling TEF can say goodbye to any hopes of winning. Universities will now undoubtedly be told: you want international students, you be in TEF.
So these "low quality" courses are fine for British and European students, but not international students to secure a visa? Wheres the protection for British and European students? This is yet another ill thought plan by the May Government. What about students who have aspirations and a real hunger for education, but do not have the grades for one of the Elite choices? I used to be proud of the UK being open for all student types, but feel now it is becoming an elite product for these privately educated individuals. Where has your perspective of wider society gone mam?
It seems like a good idea in principle. However, how it's enforced will be the challenging part.
After the end of the binary divide, and the subsequent introduction of the QAA, I didn't think it was possible to have 'low quality' courses at UK universities. I presume that the Home Secretary has made the Education Secretary aware of this defect in our HE system??

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