Visa plans could spell disaster for UK, MPs hear

The UK government risks causing a collapse in international demand for study in the country similar to that experienced in Australia if it mishandles its policy on visas, a cross-party group of MPs has been warned.

February 1, 2011

Members of the Home Affairs select committee heard that the Australian government recently had to backtrack on changes that made it more difficult for overseas students to enter the country after universities experienced a massive fall in applications.

Simeon Underwood, academic registrar at the London School of Economics, told the committee that Australia’s Monash University had been forced to cut jobs because of the fall in international enrolments.

“In Australia, the government introduced a number of restrictions in 2009-10 that were designed to eliminate abuse and then as a result they affected the sector as a whole.

“A highly respected institution like Monash had to cut 300 academic jobs on the back of changes in immigration regulation,” he said.

He added that the Australian experience showed “the damage that indiscriminate policymaking can do” to a higher education sector.

The example was also cited by Steve Smith, president of Universities UK and vice-chancellor of the University of Exeter. He told the committee that thousands of jobs in the UK would be at risk if the government took the wrong approach on student visas.

Today’s hearing coincided with the end of the government consultation on changes to the system and a speech by Damian Green, the immigration minister. Mr Green defended plans for a crackdown and said there was “clearly enormous” potential for abuses under the current arrangements.

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