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Drop in Indian students: British VC hits out at visa policy

world Updated: Jan 25, 2014 10:14 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar

Vice-chancellors of British universities have blamed the David Cameron government’s immigration policy and the accompanying rhetoric for a major drop in the number of “extremely important” Indian students coming to British universities.

Edward Acton, vice-chancellor of the University of East Anglia and a leading figure in the discourse on international students and the government's student visa policy, told HT today that he was “deeply concerned” by the latest figures that showed the major drop of Indian students.

“I am deeply concerned by the latest figures but, regrettably, not at all surprised; the words of a Home Secretary spoken in the House of Commons take only seconds to reach the newspapers of India and have the potential to do untold damage to long-established and cherished relationships”, he said.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK (UUK), the umbrella body representing all British universities, said: “What is clear from this is that, if the UK wants to fulfil its potential in this growth area, it must present a welcoming climate for genuine international students and ensure that visa and immigration rules are consistent and properly communicated.”

According to Acton, who led the UUK's lobbying for removing international students from immigration targets, the main reason for the drop in number of Indian students was “government policy and the accompanying rhetoric, which…is profoundly damaging to Britain’s standing abroad”. Indian students were “extremely important” to British universities, he said.

“I and my fellow Vice-Chancellors cherish their presence in our academic communities. We have also tried to exert political pressure on Ministers and Members of Parliament to urge them to oppose the Home Office’s damaging policies and to foreground the hugely positive academic and cultural influence of international students and staff who come to Britain to work and study. In particular, I have been vocal in my opposition to the closure of the post-study work visa in April 2012”, Acton added.

However, immigration minister Mark Harper told HT: "The student visa regime this government inherited was weak and open to abuse, allowing people to pose as students while coming to the UK to work. Our reforms have closed that loophole — enabling us to cut immigration, while still protecting our world-leading universities”.

He added: "UK universities are continuing to attract the brightest and best students from around the globe and there is no limit on those allowed to study here, with latest visa applications showing a 7% rise for the 12 months to September 2013.

Figures released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) revealed that the decline in the number of Indian students that started in 2011-12 continued in the last academic year (2012-13), leading to a record 25 per cent reduction overall.

The overall reduction in the number of Indian students is 25 per cent over the previous academic year, but the drop is sharper in the case of those enrolling on first-year degree courses, which has almost halved over two years, from 23,985 in 2010-11 to 12,280 in 2012-13.