Indian postgrads shun UK sector
Rise in non-EU applications masks problem with key market, THE poll finds. John Morgan reports
Applications from overseas students have risen by up to 26 per cent at some major UK universities despite the government's tougher visa regime - but the number of Indian postgraduate submissions has fallen dramatically at several institutions.
Times Higher Education surveyed universities in the Russell Group and Million+ on their applications from non-European Union students for 2012-13. The results offer some indications of whether the government's visa tightening is making the UK less attractive to overseas students - a subject of intense debate at the highest levels of the coalition.
The latest immigration statistics, revealed last week, show that the government is struggling to bring down net migration into the UK, fuelling worries that it could take further action in the area of student visas.
Seven Russell Group and four Million+ universities supplied figures on their total applications from non-EU students. Data for the 11 institutions show an average increase of 9.4 per cent in applications from non-EU students for 2012-13, compared with the same point in the 2011-12 admissions cycle.
The universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow have generated huge rises of 26 and 19 per cent respectively (to 30,513 and 19,519).
Overseas undergraduate applications are up 21 per cent at Newcastle University, 13 per cent at the University of Nottingham (to 7,540) and 10 per cent at the University of Warwick (to 7,636).
Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, said: "Although application figures for this year appear to be holding firm, they do not reflect the full impact of the changes, many of which have just taken effect." She warned of concern that "persistent, negative publicity surrounding visa changes will begin to bite in the near future", which "could be hugely damaging for many universities that had planned on expanding their numbers".
At some universities, postgraduate applications from India have dropped dramatically, with universities blaming the closure of the post-study work visa. This could present a major problem given that India is the second-largest source of overseas students for UK universities behind China, and the largest for overseas postgraduates.
At the London School of Economics, postgraduate applications from Indians have fallen by 20 per cent, a decline mitigated by a 15 per cent rise in applications from Chinese postgraduates.
Meanwhile, Indian postgraduate applications to Nottingham are down 9 per cent (1,087 to 988). At Edinburgh and Glasgow, the decline in this category is about 10 per cent.
In April, the government withdrew the visa for non-EU students to stay in the UK to work for up to two years post-graduation.
Now students must have offers of graduate-level jobs, paying at least £20,000 a year, prior to the expiry of their student visas if they wish to stay on to work.
At the University of Wolverhampton, Indian postgraduate applications have plummeted from 772 to 190 (a 75 per cent fall).
Pragyat Singh, head of Wolverhampton's South Asia Regional Office, noted that competitors such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand offer post-study work schemes, meaning that the UK "just cannot compete in this market".
He added: "It is extremely important to understand who the consumer for UK universities is. It is the rising middle class from places such as India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. They aspire to higher education in order to procure better jobs and career opportunities.
"They need a job overseas to pay back [the loans] as local salaries just do not match up."
Went the day well? UKBA may target poor English
The UK Border Agency could use more interviews to catch out overseas students with poor English.
Jeremy Oppenheim, head of immigration, said a pilot study that questioned visa applicants in 40 countries found that students' English language skills often did not "match up" to their qualifications.
Speaking at the conference Student Immigration: Can the UK Retain its International Position?, held in London on 24 May, he said that the findings would be published by the summer.
Early results indicated that there is "still abuse that could be tackled by targeting of interviewing under our existing rules", Mr Oppenheim said.
It was not yet clear which countries gave the most cause for concern, nor whether the failing students were mainly applicants to universities or to private colleges, he added.
The interviews conducted as part of the pilot had not affected whether the students had been given visas, he stressed.