Officials have said that they find the UK Border Agency to be unresponsive and have difficulty arranging visas for doctoral students’ dependants.
Speaking at The New Student Visa System - Impact, Enforcement and UK Competitiveness, a conference organised by the Westminster Higher Education Forum and held in London on 8 November, Nadia El Kholy, cultural counsellor at the Egyptian Embassy, said there were “enormous problems” with the UKBA.
The Egyptian government “is thinking of a very serious paradigm shift in terms of the policy relating to sending students” to the UK, she told delegates during a question-and-answer session.
The UKBA sometimes rejected applications with no explanation, she claimed, and was very difficult to contact with queries.
It was hard to obtain visas for the families of doctoral students (who were often married before they began their studies in the UK), and extending their student visas so that they could remain in the country to complete their vivas was often challenging, Professor El Kholy complained.
“For sentimental reasons I feel this is really a shame because we have a long history with UK universities. A lot of our very best academics graduated from here,” she said.
However, sentiment will only go so far and Egypt has a variety of alternatives in the Middle East, she warned, including UK branch campuses in Qatar and Dubai.
In Germany, fees were “minimal” and there were further alternatives in Canada, Australia, the US and throughout Asia, she said.
A UKBA spokeswoman said that refusal notices for visas did state why applications had failed.
She added that current rules also meant that PhD students were able to apply for visa extensions beyond five years and bring dependants to the country.
However, she added that applications were refused when they did not meet the requirements of the UK’s immigration rules.
The conference also heard from Glyn Williams, head of migration policy at the Home Office, who said that in the year to June 2012 there had been a 30 per cent drop in the number of student visas issued.
Visa extensions were also down 31 per cent in the same period.
However, visa numbers were “slightly up” for universities, Mr Williams said, suggesting that colleges have been hardest hit by the tighter visa rules introduced by the coalition.
The number of people coming to the UK from outside the European Union to study was until 2008 a “gently rising” trend, he said.
After that, numbers suddenly shot up, he added, much of which he believed was because of abuse of the system.
“It is very much the Home Office belief that this was a bubble and is unsustainable,” Mr Williams told delegates, adding that a return to the “gently rising” trend would create a “sustainable market for international students”.