Universities: Student Immigration System — Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:45 pm on 15th February 2011.

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Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 2:45 pm, 15th February 2011

To ask Her Majesty's Government what will be the impact on universities of the proposed changes to the student immigration system.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Lords Spokesperson (Department for Transport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, a consultation on the student immigration system closed on 31 January. It sought the views of all respondents on the effect of the proposals. The results of the consultation, and an impact assessment, will be published in due course.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl. Last week, the noble Lord, Lord Green, who is Trade Minister, spoke warmly of the role of British educational institutions as export earners. Why is the noble Earl's department undermining that by proposing to cut the number of international students coming to the United Kingdom? Does he understand that this will have a devastating impact on the finances of many of our universities and will do enormous damage to UK interests?

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Lords Spokesperson (Department for Transport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, we are clear that we are not targeting genuine students at universities. The measures that we propose will ensure that the system is more selective for the brightest and the best. We will protect the areas that pose the least risk, including the universities sector, target the areas where risk of abuse is highest and ensure that genuine students will still be able to study at our world-renowned universities. The noble Lord is quite right to raise the issue. International students are vital for our trade position and for our soft power position.

Photo of Baroness Butler-Sloss Baroness Butler-Sloss Crossbench

My Lords, as chancellor of the University of the West of England, I am extremely concerned about the effect on Malaysian students who come to Bristol to do the bar vocational course or the solicitors course in order to go back and better run the rule of law in Malaysia, which is extremely important. When is the Minister likely to know the outcome of the consultation? I shall be in Malaysia next month and will be attacked because of the fear that people there will not be able to get their legal training here to improve the way that they operate the law in Malaysia.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Lords Spokesperson (Department for Transport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I very much hope that Malaysian students will not be disadvantaged in the way that the noble and learned Baroness suggests. She can tell them that she will be able to attack me in the House if we get this wrong. We had 31,000 responses to the consultation, many of them online. Our first task is to analyse those responses. We are grateful for the responses from academia.

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative

As the Minister will know, citizens of the original Commonwealth countries cannot come here on Commonwealth scholarships any more, because these are not awarded. However, reputable universities can still get visas without any trouble for students who are doing important courses; I think that the Malaysians would be in this category. Is this not aimed more at stopping pseudo-students who are not intending to come to study? In the past, many never even appeared at some of these so-called colleges.

Photo of Lord Morgan Lord Morgan Labour

My Lords, has not this been seen by Universities UK as a deeply harmful policy to our universities that threatens both their global reputation and perhaps £2 billion of their income? Is not the Government's policy founded on the fallacy that students are considered as migrants-in other words, as permanent rather than temporary residents of this country? Given the Government's policy on university fees, is this not a further serious blow to the well-being of one of the glories of our country?

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Lords Spokesperson (Department for Transport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I seem to be struggling to convince the House that we are determined to protect our overseas students, whom we value immensely.

Photo of Baroness Benjamin Baroness Benjamin Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I declare an interest as chancellor of the University of Exeter. If international students who are already studying here wish to take a new course, will they be expected to go back home and apply from overseas? The timeframe between finishing, getting their results and enrolling is very short, which will mean that many students will go elsewhere to study and we will lose good will internationally.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Lords Spokesperson (Department for Transport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, the noble Baroness makes an important point and it is something that we are considering carefully. However, the difficulty that we experience is that students go from low-level course to low-level course, along the lines set out by my noble friend Lady Gardner, without making any academic progression at all and while no doubt working in the UK. It is a difficult point that we shall consider very carefully.

Photo of Baroness Howells of St Davids Baroness Howells of St Davids Labour

My Lords, as chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire, I should like to give some figures which I hope will help. International students contribute £75 million per year to the local economy-money which we all agree is needed in Luton. They contribute £5 billion to the UK economy, which in turn generates wealth and jobs, and is equivalent in income terms to that contributed by a major industrial sector. The presence of international students makes courses financially viable, which they would not be if only UK students were recruited. Are these draconian rules really going to affect people who come here without real study value? We will lose good students, who will go to Canada and elsewhere if they have to comply with these rules.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Lords Spokesperson (Department for Transport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I am not disputing the figures that the noble Baroness quotes. That is one reason why we welcome overseas students. It is important to remember that comparable states have similar rules. Sometimes our rules are tougher; sometimes theirs are. However, we pay attention to the rules that obtain in similar states.