Amber Rudd, UK Home Secretary, addressing the delegation at the Conservative Party Conference.
UK Home Office proposes stricter visa rules
The UK Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, has indicated the government is considering stricter and more complex visa rules for international students, including linking rights to the quality of courses - measures that have been criticised by the education sector.

In a speech at the Conservative Party Conference yesterday, the Home Secretary, announced a range of measures to limit net migration to the UK, including a potential two-tier visa system.


Promising a consultation on the student visa regime, she said the current system treated every international student and every university as equal and claimed that some students did not need to be proficient in English.


"We need to look at whether this one-size-fits-all approach really is right for the hundreds of different universities providing thousands of different courses across the country. And we need to look at whether this generous offer for all universities is really adding value to our economy," she said.


"I'm passionately committed to making sure our world-leading institutions can attract the brightest and the best. But a student immigration system that treats every student and university as equal only punishes those we should want to help. So our consultation will ask what more can we do to support our best universities - and those that stick to the rules - to attract the best talent . while looking at tougher rules for students on lower-quality courses."


Reducing net migration to 'tens of thousands' remains an electoral pledge of the government, following Theresa May's appointment as Prime Minister earlier this year.


As Home Secretary, she introduced a number of measures to tighten the student visa system including: the removal part-time work rights from the private sector and subsequently from all non-university institutions; restricting post-study work rights for non-EU students; and breaking progression routes between further and higher education institutions.


In response to the comments, Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, defended the sector and the value of international students.


"The diversity of institutions and the range of high-quality courses offered is one of the many strengths of our university sector. Any criteria must reflect that diversity. The criteria must also support the critical role that many universities play in their regions, where the impact of international students directly supports regional economies, supplies high-level graduate skills, and ensures the sustainability of many courses at regional level.

Referring to the results of research commissioned by the association in 2014, she said the British public did not see international students as migrants, but as "valuable, temporary visitors".

"International students also enrich our campuses and the experience of UK students, both academically and culturally. Many return home having forged strong professional and personal links in this country that provide long-term, 'soft power' benefits for the UK."


Paul Blomfield MP, Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Students, said the comments by Amber Rudd were "spectacularly ill-informed" and "an act of madness".


"She doesn't seem to know how many universities we have in the UK or understand the current rules for which she is responsible, let alone appreciate the enormous contribution international students make to the universities and cities where they study," he said.


"International students bring UK£8 billion (US$10.1 billion) a year to the UK economy, creating tens of thousands of jobs across the economy. Education is one of our most successful export industries. The only people cheering today's announcement will be our competitors. As a result of measures taken over the last six years by Theresa May, we are already losing out to countries like Australia, Canada and the USA. This new crackdown just makes it easier for them and will cost UK jobs. It's an act of madness to turn our back on the world, particularly after the EU referendum."


Earlier this year, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) released a report claiming that the Home Office was overestimating the rate that non-EU students stay after completion of their courses by "tens of thousands", and said migration policy was being informed by a very small sample of interviews from the International Passenger Survey.


Professor Dave Phoenix, Chair of MillionPlus, an association of newer UK universities, and Vice-Chancellor of London South Bank University, said, "All UK universities are quality assured and there is no evidence that international students currently being accepted on courses are poorly qualified. These students have high levels of retention and completion and already have to meet stringent conditions laid down by the Home Office to gain a visa.


"We shall be responding to the Home Office consultation, but the real answer is for the government to stop treating international students as economic migrants and to take them out of the migration numbers altogether."


By Matthew Knott

News Editor