Christine Ennew, pro-vice-chancellor for internationalisation at the University of Nottingham, told The PIE News that the figures were worrying for the HE sector. “My guess is it is linked to the closure of a number of private colleges which have been offering foundation programmes, so it could be something that won’t hit the university sector immediately but will do in due course if we see fewer numbers coming through.”
“A further crackdown won’t harm language sector directly”
However, Stephan Roussounis, director of Stafford House School of English, said the language sector had bypassed the the worst of the falls through the increased use of shorter term visas. “The government is now only concerned about Tier 4 level migration [visas of over a year's duration], and to get anywhere with their stats they have to attack public sector unis. A further crackdown won’t harm language sector directly.”
The government has implemented a raft of changes to student visa conditions since 2011 in its bid to reduce net migration – the number coming to the UK minus those leaving – to under a hundred thousand. These have centred on cracking down on visa fraud – including increasing the level of English required to obtain a visa and border officials’ powers to reject applicants on entry – but also more general measures such as restricting post-study work rights.
Ironically, the release of the figures comes a day after London Metropolitan University lost its right to recruit non EU students after a UKBA audit – the most striking example of the government’s intent to date.
While the ONS figures shows that net migration has fallen – down to 216,000 in the year to December 2011 from 252,000 – ONS said it was not a “statistically significant difference”.
The Institute for Public Policy Research think-tank added that reduced student immigration led to reduced emigration within just a few years given the short duration of stay of most students – lessening the impact on net migration, and the chances of the government hitting its targets.
“The Government is making progress towards its target only at significant economic cost”
Sarah Mulley, associate director, said: “The next quarter’s data will likely show further falls [in student visas]. But even reductions on this scale seem unlikely to be enough to get net migration under 100,000.”
“The Government is making progress towards its target only at significant economic cost: reducing the numbers of skilled migrants who come to the UK…as well as fee-paying students who support our colleges and universities and provide jobs for thousands.”
ONS said the number of student visas issued had climbed from 207,418 in the year ending December 2005 to a peak of 362,043 in the year ending June 2010 before declining.