According to the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA), the total number of international students in the UK in 2013-14 was 435,500. International students made up 18% of the total student population. The number of students in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are 48,360, 25,610 and 5,950 students respectively. However the UK wants to cut this number by 25,000 students a year by implementing tougher English tests.
Following a meeting between university leaders and Home Office Officials in early October, David Cameron, the Prime Minister, pushed for language tests to become harder. While plans were made to introduce a more precise system to test English language skills of incoming international students, Theresa May, Home Secretary, wants to “crackdown” on non-English speaking students. May believes that university students are part of the “immigration problem” in Britain.
These changes in the English test will negatively impact foreign students including those from India and Pakistan whose numbers have already been on the decline. In fear of a rising decline, some ministers are opposed to toughening the testing system. May was criticized on social media and by both business groups and other government officials. A decrease in international students can have a significant negative impact on the economy and making the language tests tougher than those in Australia and America will give UK universities a great disadvantage.
This is especially of consequence with the university funds that were cut by 17% on November 25th.. This will not only lower the opportunity of poor students to take out loans but all graduates who have taken out loans since 2012, will have to pay more. This can have a negative impact on university enrollment, but Prime Minister George Osborne believes that the universities can compensate for this by recruiting more international students. However this will be made much harder with the changes in testing.
Along with tougher tests, the UK is also making further changes to student visas. The changes include banning students from switching their visas from Tier 4 to Tiers 2 and 5. Along with this ban, non-EU students who study at publicly funded universities are not allowed to work or extend their Tier 4 visas. The already falling numbers of Indian students in the UK will only decrease from the 12,000 student visas given in 2014.
The government is divided on this topic with some supporting the reforms due to the ‘immigration problem’ in the UK while others fear what the impact that cutting international student number will do to the economy. The problem with immigration isn’t just about the students, but the large number of people who are trying to get into the UK illegally. In just two days this summer, 3,500 people attempted to travel via the Channel Tunnel.
The problem isn’t just about the number of jobs and immigrants taking jobs from Brits because they accept lower fees. Housing is a big issue too. Regarding jobs, studies showed that in 2004-2005 almost 250,000 Polish immigrants came to the UK which resulted in lower unemployment rates and a rise in job vacancies. This data is proof that the Poles did not take British jobs.
The number of students who switch to other visas to extend their stay in the UK has fallen gradually in the past few years due to stricter laws. In 2011 almost 55,000 people successfully switched from a student visa, then 10,000 less in 2012, less than 13,000 in 2013 and less than 12,000 in 2014. This June was people who earned less than £46,000 were denied visas. With the new changes, this number will likely continue to drop drastically.