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Important UK college pathways for international students must be protected

12 November 2015

Joint statement by Study UK, NUS, English UK, UKCISA, BAISIS and ExEd UK

Changes today to the Tier 4 rules for study visas mean that thousands of hard-working, fee-paying international students who have chosen a UK college or language centre for their education will be denied the opportunity to extend their stay for a higher level course or work experience. The UK will be denied their talent and their continued investment in our cultural and economic future.

Young people who pay thousands of pounds and travel thousands of miles for their education need to feel confident that their host country will offer them stability and security while they are pursuing it. Forcing students to leave the UK in order to apply for their next course will fatally undermine this confidence, while causing them considerable and unnecessary upheaval and expense. When this change is combined with the recent trend of questionable decisions by visa officers on the 'credibility' of applicants, many students will simply choose instead to go to a country with a more reliable visa system. The UK has made more than a hundred rule changes since 2008, which can leave students already here unable to complete the pathway they had originally intended to follow.

International students who choose a college or language centre instead of – or before – university will do so for good reasons: a desire to learn English with specialists, for industry links, smaller class sizes and pastoral support, or a progressive approach to building qualifications. It is the flexibility and diversity of our educational pathways which makes the UK so attractive to students. Today's changes will undermine our ability to deliver these pathways and will diminish the UK's international offer. This is a great shame for those students who could have enjoyed a world-class British education, and a great loss to their colleges, to the universities they would have progressed to, and to the country as a whole – economically, academically, and culturally.

The Government has provided no evidence to support the need for these changes, and no justification except that they will "reduce net migration". That students are included in the migration statistics is a problem in itself. Students are not migrants and research shows 80 per cent of the UK public do not see them as migrants – yet they are caught up in the Government’s attempts to reduce immigration. The result of this is to reduce the UK's international standing, damaging our £18bn international education sector, and hitting our economy.

Changes which do nothing but discourage students from coming to the UK stand in stark contrast to the Government's public commitment that all genuine students are welcome. We call on the Prime Minister to uphold this commitment by seriously considering removing students from his net migration target, and by establishing a working group to review the UK’s full range of educational pathways, to ensure that our offer to genuine students remains internationally competitive. It is essential to both our education sector and economy that we keep the door open to the international talent we need to succeed in the modern, globalised world. 


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