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CBI chief warning on UK visa policy

One of the most influential representatives of British business has redoubled his criticism of government policies on international student visas, suggesting they are jeopardising British economic growth.

John Cridland, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, said the government's immigration cap had to be sensibly applied

“Education is one of Britain’s best export sectors"

John Cridland, director general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), yesterday told The PIE News that the government’s immigration cap was justified but had to be sensibly applied.

“Education is one of Britain’s best export sectors… We have to be hugely careful with the immigration policies of the government that we don’t make it difficult for universities to attract foreign students to come and study here,” he said.

“I don’t want universities having to turn students away. And separately I don’t want universities not to be able to recruit professors to teach those students because they can’t get the visas they need; they’re critical, successful people for the British economy,” he added.

“They’re critical, successful people for the British economy”

Cridland, one of Britain’s best known commentators on the economy, made the comments at the annual Dearing conference at the University of Nottingham, which this year took the business growth benefits of UK HE as its theme.

Internationalisation was a recurring motif on the day, with Professor Glyn Davis, vice-chancellor University of Melbourne, opening with an inaugural lecture from Universitas 21 – a global network of leading universities encouraging exchange.

Others to provide international perspectives included the deputy president of the University of Manchester, Rod Coombs, who said UK visa policy was a barrier to competitiveness and based on “political agenda”.

Chris Rudd, pro-vice chancellor of the University of Nottingham, broached the challenges of offshore delivery, such as protection of intellectual property rights, cultural barriers and increasing competition. “Universities need to shape their international presence rather than simply reflect sectoral trends,” he said.

Charlotte Hogg, head of retail distribution and intermediaries at Santander, also spoke, using the bank’s study abroad scholarship scheme as an example of an effective partnerships between business and HE. So far 20,000 have benefited from the programme.

Other sessions were more domestically focused, exploring ways universities could use their expertise to propel private sector growth, with talks from Dr Hamid Mughal, executive vice president, manufacturing engineering, Rolls-Royce among others.

In his session, Cridland said UK universities had been on a “roller coaster ride” since the onset of the financial crisis and the release of the Browne Review. However, he said HE would recover faster than the wider economy, and encouraged universities to engage more with emerging markets.

On visas he said he was hopeful the government would heed criticism

On student visas, he said he was satisfied with the retention post-study work rights for those who secure graduate jobs during their studies – still reviled by many in HE – which the government originally planned to scrap altogether. He said he was hopeful other criticisms would be heeded.

“There’s no reason why [visa policy] can’t be resolved. The government is perfectly entitled to have an immigration cap. They’re responding to the concerns of the public. But I think it’s got to be sensibly applied.

“I think the immigration cap needs to look at other areas where border arrangements can be tightened up,” he said.

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