The Home Secretary of the UK Government, Amber Rudd, recently announced a major crackdown on visas for overseas students studying at UK universities.
The proposal is intended to overhaul the current visa system of “one size fits all” and instead introduce a new two-tiered system in its place, which would be based on the quality of the institution and the course applied for.
Rudd plans to cut net migration (quoted as 327,000 in statistics released in March 2016) by reducing the number of international students in the UK. This number currently stands at 167,000 out of 600,000 new migrants every year.
However, this has brought consternation from higher education institutions who fear that the new measures may hamper the ability to remain competitive amongst an increasingly crowded market of universities. There is a fear that limiting immigration of international students will result in a loss of funding for these institutions, which could prove to be financially fatal.
Universities Scotland have raised concerns that the change to student visas would leave Scottish universities severely disadvantaged economically in terms of global competition. Director of Universities Scotland, Alastair Sim has said that Scotland is already at a disadvantage “in relation to competitors such as the US, Australia and Canada by not having a competitive post-study work regime,” which allows graduates to stay in the UK for a short period of time before they have to return home.
Sim voiced the fears of those involved with Scottish higher education who feel that this move could prove fatal to the UK intake of international students, stating: “The number of Indian students in Scottish universities has gone down by 50% since 2010-11. Similarly, Nigerian students have gone down 23% since 2010-11.”
Sim argues that international students will now be looking at other destinations for higher education such as America, Canada or Australia and are making a choice to go somewhere with “less unfriendly rhetoric and which has got a better visa offer which enables them to stay on and work for a limited period after their studies.”
Amidst these changes many have become concerned that a “hard” Brexit would severely damage the Scottish economy and Scottish universities. Professor Brad Mackay, former Chair in Strategic Management Management at St Andrews University, has warned that Scottish universities are “hugely reliant” on EU funding, staff, and students.