In her speech at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, Rudd said the government is considering “tougher rules for students on lower quality courses”.
“And foreign students, even those studying English Language degrees, don’t even have to be proficient in speaking English”
Rudd did not specify what constitutes a lower quality course, but said the government will be consulting on “whether our student immigration rules should be tailored to the quality of the course and the quality of the educational institution”.
“The current system allows all students, irrespective of their talents and the university’s quality, favourable employment prospects when they stop studying,” she said.
“And foreign students, even those studying English Language degrees, don’t even have to be proficient in speaking English. We need to look at whether this one size fits all approach really is right for the hundreds of different universities, providing thousands of different courses across the country.”
Students are in fact required to meet Home Office-mandated minimum English language levels to enrol on any degree course.
Rudd also highlighted work rights of Tier 4 students’ dependents and spouses as another potential area of scrutiny, erroneously stating: “While an international student is studying here, their family members can do any form of work.”
However, only students on postgraduate courses of a year or more or government-sponsored students on courses of six months or more are allowed to bring dependents with them while studying on a Tier 4 student visa.
The Home Office will also consult on plans to make it more difficult for employers to hire foreign workers, which could include a crackdown on the Tier 2 skilled worker visa used by most foreign graduates who move into a job in the UK immediately post-study.
This could include making the test that companies must take before recruiting from abroad more stringent to prevent immigrants “taking jobs British people could do”, Rudd said.
The UK Council for International Student Affairs has challenged many of the “inaccurate or misleading” claims in Rudd’s speech, including the implication that dependents of all students can work.
It questioned the suggestion that there are large numbers of ‘lower quality institutions’ accepting international students. An advisory published by the association points out: “The Home Office already requires all Tier 4 sponsors to be approved by the Quality Assurance Agency (or Independent Schools Inspectorate).
“Quality measures are therefore already in force.”
“If the government decides to take a tough line on students, it would harm our economy and damage our relations with trade partners abroad”
Responding to the proposed crackdown on postgraduate employment, it also noted that just 5,000 international students out of 430,000 were able to meet the stringent tests allowing them to transfer to a working visa last year.
“We are willing, once again, to present these facts and evidence to the government in any consultation but it is vitally important for the points to be recognised and understood,” commented UKCISA’s CEO, Dominic Scott.
Meanwhile, Phoebe Griffith, associate director for migration, integration and communities at the left-leaning think tank IPPR urged that “forging ahead with crude reductions in numbers would be a serious risk to our economy”.
“International students are a core part of our education exports and there is broad public support for keeping numbers at the current level,” she commented.
Griffith also called the data suggesting that students make up a large proportion of net migration “dubious”, pointing to IPPR’s recent analysis suggesting that the government’s strategy to reduce immigration may be targeting ‘phantom’ students.
“If the government decides to take a tough line on students, it would harm our economy and damage our relations with trade partners abroad, such as India and China – and all on the basis of figures that could simply be wrong.”
Sally Hunt at UCU, which represents university staff, also condemned the intention to further limit international students, which she said “equates to pulling up the drawbridge and sending a message that the UK is closed for business”.
“Our universities’ international student recruitment is a huge success story because overseas students are attracted by the quality of higher education available. International students make an enormous contribution to UK higher education both educationally and economically,” continued Hunt.
“Ministers need to take a very different approach and support universities by removing international students from the net migration target altogether.”