In a freewheeling interview, minister for education and skills in the Welsh Government, Leighton Andrews, talks about issues such as the withdrawal of the post-work visa options for students, future plans of Welsh universities and comments on recent media reports that university professors in the UK are often pressurised to accept sub-standard work by overseas students for financial reasons
How have tough visa rules and withdrawal of the post-work visa option impacted the number of Indian students planning to pursue their higher studies in the UK, especially Wales. What corrective measures/alternative options have been worked out to check the likelihood of the numbers going down?
While immigration is not a devolved matter, the Welsh Government is aware of the potential impact of the UK Government's immigration policy on the ability of Welsh higher education institutions to attract international students.
The introduction of tighter controls is aimed at identifying bogus institutions and students and this is welcomed by me and the higher education sector.
I am concerned that the further tightening of the student visa process may decrease the attractiveness of the UK, and hence Wales, as a destination of choice for overseas students.
Statistical data from the Higher Education Statistical Agency between 2007/08 and 2010/11 shows a year on year increase in students from India (nationality not ethnicity) studying in Welsh higher education institutions. The tightened visa rules have only recently been implemented and it is too soon to estimate their consequences for Wales.
In the event of the Foreign Universities Bill being passed by the Indian parliament, will universities in Wales set up campuses in India or focus on strengthening partnerships with Indian institutes?
Although Welsh higher education institutes (HEI) have little tradition of establishing campuses in other countries, (although Bangor has plans currently in China), the passing of this legislation may open up new opportunities abroad.
There are many factors that will need to be considered before universities in Wales make such a decision. However, it is much more likely that Welsh HEIs will seek to build new or strengthen existing partnerships with the Indian government or particular Indian universities (more usually referred to as 'institutes' there).
The growing number of students interested in entering tertiary education offers opportunities for UK institutions to engage in long-term partnerships with Indian institutions on many levels: research collaboration, articulation arrangements, and branch campuses exchange programmes to mention a few.
What are universities in Wales doing to attract the best academic talent from India and not just assessing them on the basis of the economic value they bring? What steps are being taken to ensure that quality of education does not suffer? (There have been reports in the media recently that university professors in the UK are often pressurised to accept sub-standard work by overseas students for financial reasons).
An International Action Plan for Wales is being developed by education institutions in Wales. The focus will be on pursuing opportunities with both India and China as part of a range of initiatives aimed at key countries identified by the Welsh Government for strategic engagement.
The plan seeks to set out a context in which student and staff exchanges can take place to the mutual advantage of the countries involved. The research opportunities being pioneered with India, particularly by Swansea and Cardiff universities, will lead to much closer collaboration between academics in both countries, and will lay the groundwork for further staff exchanges and joint working.
With regard to the quality of education experienced by all overseas students, Higher Education Funding for Wales (HEFCW) will shortly write to all HEIs to seek information about the detail of their practice and processes, and the levels of assurance they have in place to ensure educational standards are maintained, particularly at the masters level.
Comment on the London Metropolitan University (LMU) fiasco in which even legitimate students suffered. Have universities in Wales taken any steps to ensure that such episodes to not recur?
The decision by the UK Border Agency to revoke London Metropolitan University's licence to recruit international students has had significant implications for both the institution and its students.
It is indeed unfortunate that students with a legitimate right to study in the UK were impacted by the situation at London Metropolitan University however, it is right that UK Border agency seeks to ensure that all UK HE institutions have robust procedures in place for checking the immigration status of their students.
A sector wide taskforce was set up to assist any student looking for other suitable courses. The taskforce also oversaw the establishment of a £2m Student Support Fund to ensure that no international student would suffer financially as a result of the UK Border Agency's actions.
his problem arose solely out of perceived failings in LMU's processes and procedures, and there has been no suggestion that any Welsh higher education institutions may have experienced similar difficulties.
Officials understand that the UK Border Agency has had continuing discussions with higher education institutions, including those in Wales, in recent months in the light of LMU developments.
We would expect the Higher Education Wales Board to have considered the need for Welsh higher education institutions individually to ensure appropriate compliance with the Border Agency's expectations, and to have advised vice chancellors accordingly.
With the renewed focus on the role of governors and the governing body in recent times following the McCormick report, we would also expect Welsh higher education institutions processes and procedures with regard to all overseas students, not just those from India, to have been reviewed, tested and, where necessary, strengthened.
Are any special scholarships/part or fully funded being worked out for the Indian market. If yes, what courses will these be for? Is there a budget set aside for the purpose?
Whilst there are no specific incentives for prospective students from India there is a UK-India Education and Research Initiative (UKIERI).
It would be a matter for individual institutions to determine whether they wished to establish specific scholarship schemes for overseas students.
Why should students in India choose universities in Wales over other top-class education institutes in the US or Singapore that is closer home and costs less?
Results from the 2012 National Student Survey show the overall satisfaction for students studying in Wales has remained high, with 84% of respondents satisfied with their course.
Welsh universities offer a huge range of degrees, so for practically whatever prospective students want to study, they will be sure to find something suitable in Wales.
International students won't get a better value British degree anywhere else in the UK. The advantages of studying in Wales are quality, variety and great value for money.
Cardiff Metropolitan University (CMU) has been earmarked for merger with Glamorgan and Newport universities in what is being seen as one of the biggest collaborations ever seen in British higher education. How will these mergers impact Indian students, particularly those who have already enrolled in courses in these universities?
We have made a commitment to fewer, stronger universities, which are more sustainable and better equipped to meet the needs of the needs of both learners and the Welsh economy.
We welcome the progress that the University of Wales, Newport and the University of Glamorgan have made so far in pre-integration activities, although at this stage I have not made any final decision regarding a dissolution of Newport's HE Corporation.
We will be giving further consideration to the potential cost of effecting any merger proposals. Any financial support will be subject to the production of a robust business case.
It will be a matter for the institutions themselves to put in place arrangements for the continuity of provision for currently enrolled students as and when any merger progresses. However, I have already made it clear that I would not wish to see any undue disruption in the quality and delivery of learning.
Are Welsh universities planning to establish any major partnerships with Indian universities/institutes? If yes, will these be primarily in the science and technology sectors or other sectors as well?
There have been some exciting developments in recent years with India led by Swansea and Cardiff Universities in the areas of medical engineering, advanced manufacturing engineering, and energy systems and technologies. In Swansea's case this would have involved building further upon the strong links the university already has with CORUS Tata in Port Talbot (and, potentially, for its forthcoming Science and Innovation Campus). These developments followed a Wales International Consortium (WIC) supported mission to Delhi.
The Delhi visit also resulted in some tangible higher education outcomes in terms of the low carbon and health sectors, with new collaborative projects being progressed with Indian partners (including the ministry of new and renewable energy), and also linking in to some EC-related activity there. I am aware that Bangor University has a wide range of links with Indian Universities (for example, in neuroscience and electronic engineering), and all our HEIs have links of some description with India, some quite extensive.
Welsh universities are continuing to develop links with Indian Universities and these are not necessarily confined to science and technology.
A delegation of further and higher education colleagues and my officials will be visiting Mumbai in early December with a view to developing further partnerships in Maharashtra.