British Council accused of undermining Government immigration policy
A quango that is meant to promote Britain overseas has been accused of trying to undermine Government policy on immigration.
7:00AM GMT 12 Mar 2012
The British Council claims that new plans to restrict the number of international students at this country’s universities will damage the economy and affect the education sector’s “brand”.
It warns that both Australia and the USA suffered when their governments tightened up entry requirements for undergraduates in recent years.
But a leading pressure group says the British Council, the Government’s international cultural relations body, drew “exactly the wrong lessons” from the other countries’ experiences.
Migration Watch UK says that the studying route is open to abuse and that the authorities are correct to crack down on it.
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of Migration Watch UK, said: “It is surprising that a Government-funded body should be issuing material designed to undercut Government policy and even more surprising that they should have tried to spin their report to suggest that tightening our visa system would discourage genuine applicants.
Students from overseas, particularly Asia and Africa, account for a large proportion of new arrivals to Britain and until recently there has been little attempt made to track their movements after graduation.
A major part of the Coalition’s goal of reducing net migration to “tens of thousands” a year, therefore, is to restrict the numbers being handed student visas from a high of some 300,000 a year.
Students on English language courses can now only stay for 11 months while the cost of visas has risen. Under another change made just before the election, applicants must be able to speak English before they can move to a campus here.
From next month, foreign students will not be allowed to remain in the country after graduation unless they have an offer of a skilled job.
A report by the British Council, which has not been widely circulated but which was discussed on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme in February, warns that the stricter policies will lead to a “downward trend” in international student enrolments.
It says the recent changes mean Britain now has the “toughest immigration regime” which will “detract genuine and career-driven” applicants.
This will reduce the £14billion contribution to the economy made by overseas students and could lead to a shortage of science and engineering skills, it is claimed.
Meanwhile the closure of private colleges will “have a negative impact on the UK education brand as a quality destination”.
Its conclusions are based on the experiences of Australia, which saw lower overseas students after getting tough on bogus applicants, and the USA, which made immigration more difficult following 9/11.
But Migration Watch UK says there the study found no correlation between stricter entry requirements and student applications, and that other factors played important roles in the drop in numbers.
The pressure group says both Australia and the USA found that the student route of immigration is a “very likely source of serious abuse” and points out that both countries interview prospective students, unlike Britain.
It says bogus colleges have been uncovered in this country as well as supposed students who were working full-time, which is more damaging to the reputation of higher education sector.
Dr Jo Beall, the British Council’s director of education and society, said: “The British Council completely backs the government’s intention to attract genuine students who make a huge economic and academic contribution to Britain, so we feel obliged to point out when independent evidence suggests there’s a risk that current policy may mean the UK loses out to our competitors.
“We want to help government combat that and universities to attract the brightest and best students and researchers”.