It’s been a difficult year for everyone, and we’re all looking forward to seeing the back of 2016. It’s taken too much, given us little to look forward to, and it isn’t even done yet. In early December, Theresa May announced plans to slash student immigration by 50%, in line with her plans to curb overall immigration. The Home Office has looked towards halving the number of student visas available per year from 300,000 to 170,000. Theresa May has already rejected plans to exclude international students from official immigration figures, despite opposition from key figures such as Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Chancellor Philip Hammond.
Representatives from universities throughout the UK have already voiced their concerns that this would deliver a blow to the income streams for many institutions. Amber Rudd outlined plans in her maiden speech as Home Secretary to categorise all universities into gold, silver and bronze level institutions. This would then be used to determine if universities are allowed to accept overseas students, and if so, how many. This has raised further concerns that some Russell Group universities typically perform poorly in the Teaching Excellence Framework – the proposed framework for determining the status – but excel in other areas. These frameworks don’t take into consideration other factors such as research, which can make a school very attractive to overseas students.
International students bring more than £10.7bn into the UK every year, and vice-chancellors are concerned about the impact this loss of income will have on the university landscape. Universities are already struggling to maintain high levels of instruction in the face of increased tuition fees, which has led some students to demand more and more from their professors.
To make the problem worse, vice-chancellors are also keeping quiet about their concerns for fear of impacting their future rankings and eligibility to recruit students from overseas. Students who are ready and willing to part with around £11,000 per year for tuition are being turned away following the gruelling UK visa application process. Some vice-chancellors reported anonymously to Guardian Education that students were turned down for reasons as trivial as not knowing the library opening times, or for falling short in their personal bank accounts, despite their parents having sufficient funds and providing their banking details in support of the application.
The impact of these factors can already be seen, with the Guardian reporting today that the number of international students accepted from outside the EU has fallen by 2.3% due a decrease in both the applicant and acceptance rate. Cambridge, which has an earlier applications deadline, has already seen a 17% drop in EU applications.
For future students, this will inevitably lead to a rise in fees or a fall in the quality of teaching as universities will fail to attract the best lecturers. However, there is still hope for a U-turn, if there is enough support to keep students out of official immigration figures and keep this income stream flowing in future. Just last month, the government backtracked on plans to hike up immigration tribunal fees by 500%, so there is hope yet.