The truly amazing world of UK immigration policy, and an assault on higher education
British immigration law and its administration appears to be based on one particular assumption: if you want to come to the UK, you’re up to no good. How this affects other areas of life may be a topic for another day; today I am principally concerned about the impact on higher education.
For those students from outside the EU aspiring to study in the UK, getting there (even with the best academic qualifications) is not easy. The UK Border Agency, which administers the immigration process, maintains a website that sets out the rules and facilitates online applications for a visa. But the process is horrendously complex, and the Agency also takes great care to make studying in Britain unattractive. So for example a student holding a so-called ‘Tier 4’ visa must leave the UK within four months of completing her/his studies; it is well known that for many coming to Britain the ability to work in the country for a while after graduation in order to recoup the costs of studying is a vital element in the decision to apply.
And now, universities are also having to become the kind of suspicious and apparently xenophobic bodies that will really upset international students. They can be given the status of a ‘Highly Trusted Sponsor’, which provides them with somewhat more discretion in the process for recruiting overseas students. But they must then be zealous enforcers of immigration rules, and they must hold themselves in constant readiness in case the UK Border Agency decides to do a spot check on how they are carrying out their role, whether their paperwork is complete, and so forth.
The whole thing is totally crazy. Higher education is a major export service, and like all services it must, to be successful, meet the customer’s needs. Giving the aspiring student the impression that they are not really wanted is not clever practice. Some degree of regulation is not necessarily wrong, but the student’s experience with the national bureaucracy will influence how much they will find the studies to be of value and whether they will recommend a UK university education to others in their home country. In the meantime, the reported reduction of 230,000 student visas planned by the British government, in order to meet rather foolish immigration cuts targets, will again suggest to international students that they are not wanted.
One item on the list of powers to be transferred to the Scottish government from Westminster should perhaps be immigration policy. If England is determined to put international students off, there is no overwhelming need for Scotland to follow suit.