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.

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12 Comments on “The truly amazing world of UK immigration policy, and an assault on higher education”

  1. Eddie Says:

    “One item on the list of powers to be transferred to the Scottish government from Westminster should perhaps be immigration policy”.
    What a surprise, the SNP says the same!! Not going to happen as it is a central policy.
    BTW, most of the students RGU hoovers up in non-EU countries like India and China end up looking for jobs in England, after graduation. These students from India which RGU Business and other Schools for example is seeking in hundreds, need not come to RGU and any other universities similar to RGU, as India and China have good universities of comparable or better stature. Only those who fail to get into those universities, as the best stay in the country and others go to USA, come to places like RGU. Hence you need to do more research before writing an article such as this.

    • Eddie Says:

      Just to add to the above. After what happened in Glasgow Caledonian University ( where the bunch of non-EU “students” disappeared. Similar cases exist in numbers up and down the country in many universities where non-EU students drop out working more than 20 hours /week), I would have preferred US embassy-style student visa interviews- severely limiting numbers of entrants for undergraduate and graduate courses from countries where there is a good HE system, and where previous experience shows that students do not return after studies. Whichever way one works out, it requires at least 10 years or even more to earn back the money spent by these overseas students on courses in Britain. Some of these universities in the Britain need to downsize to a realistic level, as they expanded looking for overseas students, and are clearly not global institutions.

  2. Absolutely, one would not agree less with the position that you have taken in this article, you have said it all viz: ‘’If England is determined to put international students off, there is no overwhelming need for Scotland to follow suit’’. Thank you very much.

  3. jfryar Says:

    In England, it isn’t just students. The Home Office has reduced the number of visas a university can apply for, which has led to ‘lottery’ systems for postdocs and academic staff. The unfortunate problem is that these systems are not exactly transparant – it is quite clear that younger staff members are losing out as universities attempt to recruit senior academics with research portfolios matching the ‘strategic directon’ of departments. When you combine the lengthy work visa process, the very noticable reduction in research budgets, the salaries offered, income tax, temporary nature of contracts (six months is now being offered at some universities)), transport costs, council tax, and rent, England is becoming increasingly unattractive for non-national and non-EU researchers.

  4. Eddie Says:

    from discussions in THE, and from experience interacting with colleagues, there is a glut of British PhDs and postdocs looking for jobs in all areas. Why not dip into this pool? Are they not good? If so, why produce them in increasing numbers? Other countries like Germany and Spain, the language acts as a filter. If a non-EU scholar were to try for example in Spain, he/she will understand how relatively less problematic British work permit/visa system is!

    The overproduction of medicos from EU countries like Germany and Spain, resulted,them coming to Britain to NHS

  5. Eddie, which bit of ‘foreigners paying large sums of money to come to British universities’ is it that you don’t like?

  6. Steve B Says:

    Any business has to survive in the environment it finds itself in. Universities seem to have planned based upon the assumption of unhindered growth. The goal posts have changed so change your plans accordingly.
    If the students are finding it difficult to come to you then go to them via in-country institution tie-ins or increased distance learning provision.
    Stop whinging and get planning for a different future which is less reliant on bricks and mortar. Get meaner and leaner.

    • jfryar Says:

      It’s all very well and good being bullish about it, but that doesn’t necessarily make sense.

      At the research institute I’m working at, I’d say about 50% of our postdocs are non-EU nationals. These people did interviews and were accepted for various UK-funded projects. That means either UK postdocs who applied for those positions simply weren’t good enough, or there weren’t sufficient numbers applying. In other words, with the limits on work visa allocations to universities, once these people finish out their contracts they’ll leave and won’t be replaced.

      That implies my home institute will have to scale back on its research. Which seems to be completely contrary to what is actually needed if you want high-value manufacturing in the future and ‘knowledge-based’ economies.

      • Eddie Says:

        If these non-EU postdocs were good,, why were they not absorbed in their own countries or did not go to US where they will be paid much much more?
        When discussions in this topic take place academics and even VCs are worried about their own jobs rather than what is good for those graduates, post graduates, PhDs and postdocs-the poor natives who are unemployed.
        As for Scotland to have its own immigration policy, let Alex Salmond bring forward quickly the referendum bill without kicking it in the long grass.

  7. anna notaro Says:

    *One item on the list of powers to be transferred to the Scottish government from Westminster should perhaps be immigration policy.*
    Ok granted and then what next? Taxation, fiscal policies? All very well, however it looks to me as if the Scottish education policies (incidentally education is traditionally a cornerstone of Scottish national identity and distinctiveness) are bound to get intertwined with the SNP’s idependentist agenda, an elephant in the room type of situation??

  8. Perry Share Says:

    “if you want to come to the UK, you’re up to no good” – not unique to the UK, but the default position of immigration officials the world over, I suspect. They presumably see it as their job to prevent immigration wherever possible.

    As a postgrad student in Australia, many years ago, I had to report annually, to renew my student visa, to the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. This was located in a (since demolished) Melbourne city building affectionately known as the ‘Green Latrine’, due to its similarity to a giant public toilet. Invariably I was declared to have committed some minor infraction, by immigration officers who had never embraced the concepts of ‘customer’ or ‘care’. I always felt guilty even if I hadn’t done anything.

    I revisited the same department (in a new building) a few years ago, to confirm that I was now officially had no residential status whatsoever in the Lucky Country. The staff were gracious, courteous and sympathetic as they bid me adieu!

  9. For interest

    From Upsettlington to Hungry Law via Shid Law : 6-7 August 2011
    UK Border Walk is a 77k walk along the English/Scottish border and an Artachat discussion in the Romany town of Kirk Yetholm, the halfway point of the walk. Both walk and talk aim to highlight and discuss the effects the Points Based System has for arts and cultural activities across our communities in the UK.

    UK Border Talk: Wauchope Hall, Yetholm: Saturday 6th August, 6pm
    An open debate on the consequences of the PBS to UK cultural life. All Welcome.

    UK Border Walk: Sunday 7 August, start 10am : all are welcome to join Claudia and Rocca for the last day of their walk.
    Please contact for more details.

    VAGA has for the last three years been working with colleagues across the arts to try to get the points based visa system amended to be more appropriate for visiting artists. The current bureaucracy, expense, break down of trust and culture of surveillance is difficult and shocking for the individuals involved and unsustainable for many organisations wishing to work with artists from outside the EU; we potentially face long term damage to our international cultural relations. Background can be found on the VAGA web site here: If you haven’t already signed the petition – this has over 10, 000 signatures and is still open at

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