Universities should show more interest in the UK graduates they're sending to the dole queue, rather than foreign applicants.
The government will soon announce measures to reform the student immigration system. Meanwhile, their consultation exercise has been greeted with howls of outrage from the universities along with doomsday claims about billions of pounds of income under threat. Given that students accounted for over half million entrants to the UK last year (including student visitors) it is only to be expected that the government would wish to examine the route very carefully. However, contrary to claims on the Left Foot Forward blog, no cap on numbers is proposed as with economic migration. Nor are the measures likely to have much impact on the universities.
The exercise is primarily targeted at abuse of the system. Evidence for abuse is partly based on a Home Office Study, which showed that 26% of those studying below degree level at privately funded HE or FE institutions were "potentially non-compliant" - that is unaccounted for. Last year some 90,000 students attended these colleges. As the immigration minister put it recently "the potential for abuse is enormous".
So the government has made the entirely sensible proposal of limiting courses below degree level to institutions that have achieved Highly Trusted Sponsor (HTS) status ie those that have a proven track record of students who stick to the immigration rules. Genuine students who come here to study will still be to attend pre-degree courses at such institutions and then progress to the universities.
Other evidence of abuse comes from border officials whose main concern when visited at Heathrow by the prime minister and home secretary was the number of supposed students turning up with a very limited grasp of English. Raising the language requirement a notch should help deter bogus students with the added benefit of giving genuine students the ability to take full advantage of the courses they have paid so much for.
The other key proposal is to close the post study work route (PSWR) that gives foreign graduates in any subject and with any grade from more than 600 institutions the right to look for work in the UK, for a period of two years. This has been described by the independent migration advisory committee (MAC) as one of the most generous schemes in the world. The number one destination for foreign students, the United States, has no such scheme and only allows students to stay on if they are sponsored by an employer. This option of being sponsored by an employer will continue to exist in the UK too. But the PSWR can no longer be defended. There are currently 2.5 million unemployed of whom nearly one million are 16-24 year olds while graduate unemployment is at 20%.
It would be good to see universities show a little more concern for the UK graduates who they are currently sending to the dole queue. In any case, the universities should be selling the quality of their education not immigration. There are many foreign applicants per place at universities so, if some are dissuaded by the closure of the PSWR, others will take their place.
Tightening up on abuse should close those institutions that are damaging the reputation of British education and will encourage thousands of genuine foreign students to come to the UK in the future; something we would all welcome.
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