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Visa plans are a ‘hostile act against universities’

Government plans to overhaul the immigration system and drastically reduce the number of visas issued amount to a “hostile act against Britain’s universities” and contain elements that have an “ugly taste of apartheid”, a vice-chancellor has warned.

In a report published today by the Higher Education Policy Institute, Edward Acton, vice-chancellor of the University of East Anglia, sets out an apocalyptic vision of the likely consequences if the proposals are implemented in their current form.

He warns that the proposals relating to Tier 4 student visas would devastate pre-university pathway courses, costing the country billions of pounds in tuition fees and other income. He also contends that the plans are founded on “thoroughly unreliable” data.

The coalition government, which has said that it wants to reduce net migration to the “tens of thousands”, carried out a consultation on the plans for student visas in December and January. New restrictions are expected to be imposed in March or April.

But Professor Acton says that the immigration data the government uses, collected from the International Passenger Survey (IPS), is notoriously unreliable.

In a challenge to the government, he says universities would be willing to pay for a new and superior exercise to accurately measure the effect of overseas student recruitment.

“Should the Home Office be too nervous of the outcome to permit IPS to be subjected to such a test and insist on pursuing the current policy trajectory, the consequences will be dire,” he writes in the report, The UKBA’s Proposed Restrictions on Tier 4 Visas.

He says the measures would reduce the number of international students in the country by 75 per cent, and calculates that if the proposals had been implemented in 2005, the cumulative loss of income since then would add up to £12 billion.

Singled out for particular criticism are proposals that would restrict visas to students seeking to participate in pre-university pathway courses, and plans to shorten the permitted length of pre-sessional courses.

Professor Acton also bemoans plans to end the time granted to some students to seek work after graduation and to limit the right of international students to take part-time jobs, which he says is “an ugly taste of apartheid and not easily administered”.

Overall, he says, the proposals are “better designed to cut [international student] recruitment rather than abuse”.

Responding to the report, Damian Green, the immigration minister, said: “I believe that attracting talented students from abroad is vital to the UK economy, but we must be more selective about who can come here and how long they can stay.

“Our proposals are targeted measures that will seek to reduce abuse of the current system – mainly seen in those coming to study at lower levels and at private institutions of further education – by increasing the quality of those who are able to use the student route.

“The brightest and the best who have the greatest contribution to make to the UK will continue to be welcomed, and we are working closely with the sector to ensure that the final proposals support this.”

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  • Professor Edward Acton, vice-chancellor of the University of East Anglia
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