Migration and universities – coalition mismanagement

Vince Cable skirted over the big immigration issues in his conference speech yesterday.

Vince Cable skirted over the big immigration issues in his conference speech yesterday

My oldest son started university last week. Without naming the institution, it is one that has high proportions of international students from outside the EU. While their fees have funded new facilities, my son talks of overcrowded classes and little social interaction between the mostly far eastern students and those from the UK.

Meanwhile, John O’Keefe, our latest Nobel Laureate, has criticised the government’s stance on migration which has made it difficult to bring the brightest and best scientists to the UK.

It seems that the coalition has given us the worst of both worlds: universities that are struggling to cope with undergraduates and unworkable restrictions on the best overseas post-graduates.

While calling for a calmer debate on immigration, Vince Cable skirted over both of these issues in his conference speech yesterday – an omission given his department is responsible for higher education.

Despite a recent dip in the overall numbers of non-EU international students, the university sector has held up and there has been a year-on year increase in the numbers of these students since the late 1990s. In the 2012-13 academic year there were 125,300 non-EU students in the UK higher education sector, making up 18 per cent of the total student population in UK universities.

Within the higher education sector, the London School of Economics has the highest proportion of international students at 67 per cent, although universities with big science and engineering departments tend to educate many non-EU students, with 32 per cent of all engineering students coming from outside the EU in 2012-13. At present China is by far the biggest sending country for international students.

The UK benefits hugely from their presence, through the generation of export earnings. Fee income from overseas students may by as much as £15 billion and they create jobs in the higher education sector. The off-campus spending of international students also benefits local economies, and they bring skills and talents with them. They ensure that science and engineering courses remain viable and that benefits UK students, too.

There is no evidence to show that international students are displacing those born in the UK. International students may also go on to act as advocates for the UK and its universities when they return home.

But the expansion in international student numbers in UK universities has been pursued without planning for their integration. Many of them end up living in private rented accommodation in deprived neighbourhoods already experiencing high population churn – turning these areas into dormitory accommodation. Nor have many universities thought about social mixing on campuses with high proportions of international students.

As a former university lecturer I sometimes struggled to teach Chinese students who I found unwilling to voice their opinions in seminars. The best universities are responding to these issues, for example, with training sessions for teaching staff, housing strategies and expanding their purpose-built student accommodation so as to minimise the impact of the students on particular areas.

Others have set up volunteering and befriending schemes to help integrate international students, putting them in contact with local families. However, such good practice is not consistent and Vince Cable’s own department has not produced any guidance to hep universities manage student migration.

Government policy also means that UK universities are also struggling to recruit the brightest and best post-doctoral students, the issue highlighted by John O’Keefe. Before 2012 there were a number of schemes which enabled this group to come to the UK. Previously, under the points-based system, post-doctoral students and other academic staff could come to the UK through Tier One routes for highly-skilled migrants.

But in order to meet its net migration target, the government brought in changes to this route in 2012, effectively shutting it down apart from a small number of wealthy investors and those with ‘exceptional talent in sciences and the arts’. Some 18,851 Tier One visas were issued in 2009, including visas for students who had completed post-graduate courses.

By 2013 visas for the most highly-skilled had fallen to 1,898. Just six visas were issued for post-graduates who want to remain in the UK in 2013 and 61 for those with ‘exceptional talent’ whose applications have to be endorsed by organisations such as the Royal Society.

While the government argues that academic superstars can use the exceptional talent route to come to the UK, universities also need the brightest and best post-doctoral students who have not yet reached this level. This is the point that John O’Keefe made in his intervention and an issue to which the Government should respond, Vince Cable’s department included.

Jill Rutter is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward and a former university lecturer

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15 Responses to “Migration and universities – coalition mismanagement”

  1. Leon Wolfeson

    And that’s before we look at our shambles of postgraduate funding.

    (I note I can go to quite a few EU countries and do a two years taught masters degree with zero tuition fees, and am actively looking at a remote masters degree, from a University in Holland, which is taught in English and which I’d do part-time over three years…for considerably less than a single postgrad module would cost me here!)

  2. itdoesntaddup

    I prefer the HESA data. They show overseas student numbers:

    Region of domicile * ………..2011/12……….2012/13

    Other European Union………132550……….125290
    Other Europe…………………….17890…………18610
    Middle East……………………….26645…………26380
    North America……………………27100…………26920
    South America…………………….4090…………..4345
    Non-European Union unknown..690……………505
    Total non-UK domicile……….435235………425265
    Total non EU……………………302685……….299975
    Total students………………..2496645……..2340275

    The 300,000 non EU students contributed a total of £3.532bn in fees – an average of £11,770 each. The universities received some £4.154bn in block grant towards teaching costs, and £7.363bn in fees from UK and EU students. Average fees paid by non-EU students are not at a large premium to the £9,000 charged to most students in England. It is questionable whether this business is really at a profit, or being subsidised by UK taxpayers. It is obvious that we are subsidising the education of students from elsewhere in the EU, given that we expect less than half their student loans to be paid off.

    The latest migration data show that only 70,000 former student immigrants emigrated in the year (20,000 EU, 50,000 non EU), compared with some 152,000 more who came to study three years ago (when their courses might on average have started). Student migration inflows remain very high, with some 177,000 coming for more than a year’s study in the year to March 2014 (38,000 EU, 124,000 non EU). The reality is that the student route continues to be an unacknowledged migration backdoor, with many staying on illegally to add to those who do secure a proper right to remain.

    Student immigration sounds inoffensive, but the reality is that many students moonlight to help finance their studies, taking jobs that might have been done by unemployed UK citizens, so the net benefit to the economy should count the added welfare as an expense, alongside the need to provide additional housing, healthcare, and support for any accompanying family.

    It seems rather odd to consider educating those from overseas in disciplines where they will compete with the UK when they return home as being beneficial to anyone in the UK other than the careers of the academics. It’s not like teaching Bill Clinton PPE so he may be more favourably disposed to the UK and its thinking.

    Of course the real mismanagement was the changes in the student visa regime that allowed so many bogus students into the country, and allowed so many sham colleges to flourish as immigration backdoors. That is one thing the coalition have tried to stamp down on, although the task is far from complete.

  3. Guest

    Stamp on the Universities faces! SLAM!

    Oh wait, no, there’s no justification for your actions, because that was an issue with collages and not Universities. Funny that, as you attack anything which might generate cash for the UK, or support education.

    Very few countries count paying students as immigrants at all, as you rage against the economy, rage that the borders are not completely closed, etc.

    “The universities received some £4.154bn in block grant towards teaching costs”

    That’s 2010ish figures. It’s gone under the new system of loans. You are not even using correct data, and far less than half of the loans will be paid off by UK students. And of course there is no data on emigration.

    You’re even making things up to justify your Jihad.

  4. itdoesntaddup

    All the data I quote come from the latest HESA release and the latest ONS release on migration.


    All countries that adhere to UN definitions in migration reporting count all students who plan to stay for more than a year as long term migrants. That is simply the international definition. I don’t dispute that UK students will be heavily subsidised by taxpayers when their loans are eventually written off, proving that the current levels of “university” education are wholly uneconomic. The money could be far better spent on post school education for those ignored by the university system, who were once precisely the demographic the Labour party considered it should support.

    So we’ve established that you’re the one making things up.

  5. Leon Wolfeson


    Most countries ignore that measure for good reason, as you scream that we are far too high-skill and too high-wage an economy in the UK, but you’d borrow for subsiding low-wage factory workers so they could be paid even less.

    Germany imports graduates. You are against that, of course, you’re just for grinding poverty and imposing the burden of the borrowing to subside low-pay workers back onto the same workers.

    Your personalities “establish” nonsense, right. See a GP. Oh wait, you’d have to pay as you’re not entitled…

  6. jack

    Another night in with the laptop and LFF for company, eh Leon? Just think, life is going on right outside your door.

  7. Guest


    You’re confusing me and you again. And no, there’s only a black void outside your mansion. You also, of course, have no idea what computers I use, as you froth and rave.

  8. GhostofJimMorrison

    Jack, most of us have come to the conclusion old Wolfey is genuinely mentally unstable. probably schizophrenic/multiple personality disorder. Pity him.

  9. Dave Roberts

    itdoesntaddup. You seem to be new here and are probably not aware that Guest/Leon/Cheese as a problem with reality. To put it another way he is bonkers. Ms Rutter is well known for distorting figures and seems to be someone who wants an open doors immigration policy without having the guts to say so.

  10. Dave Roberts

    Does this include the game playing you referred to in an earlier post?

  11. Dave Roberts

    I really am fascinated to know who LordBlagger is Leon. Tell us, please!

  12. Guest

    LordBlagger, your constant circular references just reinforce how detached you are from Britain.

  13. Guest

    Keep screaming how your personalities have decided that holding views other than yours makes people like you.

    Keep demanding, too, that other people feel and act as you do. As you reply to yourself.

  14. Leon Wolfeson

    You’re spamming me with nonsense rubbish again I see.

  15. Guest

    LordBlagger, you’re another one of my accounts. You know fullwell that different people I lump together don’t agree with me, and hence I must scream over and over that he has my mental problems.

    I deny all numbers and facts which don’t suit me, as I call for pogroms and talk about my hate agenda against the Other and my hatred for trade.

    Guts, mm, immigrant guts.

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