The managed-migration scheme for foreigners wanting to study in the UK will give more control to universities, says Charles Clarke
We have a proud tradition of attracting the brightest and best from across the globe to study in this country. Overseas students bring significant economic benefits to the UK - some £5 billion a year - as well as adding to the richness of our culture and helping us to foster closer international ties.
But the current complex immigration system that allows foreign nationals to come here to study and to work is no longer sustainable. That is why I have announced plans for a new points-based system for managed migration. This is the most comprehensive reform of managed migration into the UK for 40 years.
The changes that I am introducing will provide a much simpler and more robust route into this country for prospective students. In future, they will be able to assess themselves against a set of published criteria to see whether they have sufficient points to be granted leave to enter or to remain in the UK.J For universities and other educational establishments, the system will provide greater objectivity and transparency in the decision-making process and will benefit those who help to safeguard the integrity of our immigration controls.
Last year's consultation on the new proposals involved more than a thousand people in the education sector. During the process, many observed that the current immigration rules require UK immigration officers based in far-flung countries to make judgments about the educational suitability of a college or university course back home. Clearly, these are decisions that such officials are not qualified to make.
The points-based system will therefore place the decision about a potential student's educational suitability fairly and squarely in the hands of the education sector - where it should be.
And it is surely right that as universities and colleges gain significant benefits from attracting overseas students, so they should also play a part in ensuring the system is not abused. More than 80 per cent of those who responded to our written consultation agreed with this.
One of the crucial elements of the new points-based system will be the requirement that each student coming into the UK have a valid certificate of sponsorship from the educational establishment that they wish to attend.
Through this process of sponsorship, the institution in question will undertake certain responsibilities, including the duty to inform us if students fail to enrol or discontinue their studies.
As a former Education Secretary, I am well aware that I am adding to the many responsibilities already facing universities. But I think that they should welcome the opportunity to take greater ownership of the decision processes about who should be allowed to come into the UK to study at their establishments.
And those universities and colleges that demonstrate a good record when it comes to sponsoring students will see their applicants benefit from additional points in future.
I know people are concerned that some educational establishments are bogus and merely exist to provide a route into the UK. So the new regime will also ensure greater confidence among the general public by requiring all sponsoring institutions to be accredited.
The points-based system will therefore benefit the integrity of the whole education sector as well as those genuine prospective students who are at risk of being lured into applying to a sham institution.
I am not trying to reduce the number of students coming into the UK to study - far from it. Indeed, the proposals I am bringing in will lead to a system that benefits from a new and closer working relationship between the Home Office, other government departments and our partners in the education sector to deliver the Prime Minister's Initiative, which aims to attract more international students to the UK.
So no one should be in any doubt about my commitment to supporting the education sector's efforts to attract the world's top students.
Universities and colleges will be at the heart of the new points-based approach. We will need their help to create a robust but simple system that will ensure the UK continues to compete on the international education stage.
I hope they will continue to work with me to take forward these commonsense plans.
Charles Clarke is the Home Secretary.