Out-Law News 2 min. read

Dramatic fall in non-EU students at UK universities "appears to justify" immigration policy fears, says expert

The number of students from outside the EU coming to study at UK universities has fallen for the first time, with a particularly dramatic drop in the number of students coming to the UK from India and Pakistan, according to official figures.

The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) found a 1% drop between the number of non-EU students enrolling in universities across the UK between 2011/12 and the last academic year, 2012/13. While there had been a 6% increase in the number of students arriving from China and a 15% increase in those arriving from Hong Kong, the number of new Indian students fell by 25% while new students from Pakistan fell by 19%.

Universities expert Nicola Hart of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that the figures "appeared to justify" the fears of UK universities about the impact of new Home Office visa restrictions on the "vital market" for overseas students. The UK is a "very popular destination" for Indian students, she said.

"The Home Office is cracking down particularly strongly on visas issued in a number of countries including India, which probably accounts for the reported halving of numbers of Indian students coming to the UK in just two years," she said. "These restrictions are being imposed less strictly on Chinese applicants and the HESA's statistics show that their numbers rose by 6%, making them the largest group of non-EU students."

"The situation in India, and the negative press this policy continues to receive there, is a serious worry for UK universities. India has a huge young population and an under-supply of higher education in the country, which makes it an ideal partner," she said.

The Government's Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) is actively recruiting international students, who it claims contribute over £13 billion to the UK economy each year. However, changes to immigration laws which now officially count international students as 'migrants' if they stay in the UK for more than one year, and the abolition of the post-study work visa, when combined with the Home Office's stated intention to reduce net migration before the next election seemed at odds with this policy, Hart said.

"There is a continuing disconnect between the policy and rhetoric of the Home Office and of BIS," she said. "While the Home Office is only going as far as to say the UK is open to the 'brightest and best' students from overseas, BIS attempts to support the export of higher education by insisting that there is no limit on number of students allowed to enter, and not just the 'brightest and best'."

As well as the 25% fall in the number of Indian students enrolling in UK universities over the past year, HESA's figures showed a 32% drop in numbers between 2010/11 and 2011/12. This means that the number of new Indian students has almost halved in the past two years, falling from 23,985 in 2010/11 to 12,280 in 2012/13.

Skills and Enterprise Minister Matthew Hancock is currently on an official visit to India, partly to promote partnerships in education and training technology. He will be meeting with the Indian Minister of State for Labour and Employment to "explore further collaboration" opportunities in the fields of skills development and employment services, according to a BIS press release.

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