Visas — Question

– in the House of Lords at 11:22 am on 16th February 2011.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Clement-Jones Lord Clement-Jones Liberal Democrat 11:22 am, 16th February 2011

To ask Her Majesty's Government when they expect to make a decision on the criteria for granting tier 1 post-study work visas, following the recent consultation paper.

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. The consultation sought the views of respondents concerning the future of the tier 1 post-study work route and the effect of the proposals. The outcome of the consultation will be announced shortly.

Photo of Lord Clement-Jones Lord Clement-Jones Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and declare an interest as vice-chairman of the All-Party Group on China and chair of the council of the School of Pharmacy, University of London. Only yesterday, the Minister said that the Government were determined to protect overseas students, so why are business, universities, research charities and student bodies all lined up against the current government proposals drastically to reduce those tier 1 post-study work visas? Not only will we let down our current overseas students, we will reduce the attractiveness of Britain as a study destination. Is that any way to foster good links with important countries such as China and India?

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

My Lords, the noble Lord asked about the situation with academic institutions. The answer is that they are not yet convinced of our good intentions. The UK's education system is world-renowned. We remain the second most popular destination of choice, second only to the United States; and we intend to maintain that position. Post-study work is an important component of that.

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, the noble Earl says that universities are not yet convinced. Surely the reason is that universities have done the analysis and looked at the consultation, and it is abundantly clear to them that under the Government's proposals, many of them will be severely harmed financially. Today, the noble Earl's department announced a climbdown on the immigration cap. When can we look forward to a climbdown on the student immigration consultation?

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

My Lords, we will not climb down on our intention to avoid the abuse of the student route. We want to maintain the UK as a world-class academic destination, but we are not prepared to tolerate abuses of the system, which, as the noble Lord knows very well, take place.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

Yesterday, in response to a Question on the student immigration system, the Minister used the term,

"the brightest and the best"-[Hansard, 15/2/11; col. 575.]

in relation to those we want to attract and it is a term used in the consultation paper. Does he agree that there is not a single spectrum capable of objective application and that people have different views of the attributes that make for the brightest and the best? Does he agree that the language as well as the concept is not uncontentious?

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

My Lords, I am sure the noble Baroness is right, but it is for the academic institutions to select their students.

Photo of Lord Soley Lord Soley Labour

Does the Minister accept that, like him, we all want to maintain this country in second position, but that we will do so only if the policies are right? They are not right because they are not working for the universities, which are also suffering additional costs. We are well on course to reduce the impact of British universities around the world. We really need to rethink this policy.

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

My Lords, I am quite happy to take noble Lords' concerns back to my honourable friend the Minister for Immigration, but noble Lords have not explained to me where the difficulties lie, and we have not announced the results of the consultation.

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Labour

I declare an interest as yet another chancellor of a university. The Minister explained that the Government have very good intentions in this. It is quite clear from all those in universities to whom I have spoken, and from the concerns of those involved in universities, that they do not understand that from what they have seen of these proposals. I ask the Minister to get them together and explain these good intentions so that we can clarify whether they are or not. At the moment, those involved are not at all persuaded, and I find the proposals difficult to understand as well.

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

The noble Lord makes a useful point. We clearly need to do more work to explain the situation to the academic institutions.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat

I am yet another university chancellor declaring an interest. I am chancellor of the University of Essex which has more than 40 per cent of its students from abroad. Have the Government really taken sufficiently into account the special financial standing of overseas students who disproportionately contribute financially to the universities to which they come? Are we not scoring an own goal in constructing a new regime that will deter that benefit?

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

My Lords, if we deter foreign students from attending UK universities and bona fide courses, we will have failed. We are concerned about bogus courses-for instance, bookkeeping courses where overseas students are doing course after course when in reality they are just working in the UK.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

Will the Minister pay special attention to the impact of these proposals on small specialist institutions? I am thinking particularly about music conservatoires where not only is this issue likely to cause difficulty for the reasons indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, but because they are already facing particular problems in respect of tuition fees due to the uncertainty about specialist funding?

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

My Lords, the noble Baroness makes an interesting point, and I will ensure in discussions with the Immigration Minister that her points are taken into consideration.

Photo of Lord Patel Lord Patel Crossbench

Does the Minister recognise that for some courses, such as pharmacology and medicine, post-study work visas for experience are absolutely necessary? Does he think that such courses require a special arrangement?

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

My Lords, I fully accept that post-study work is essential to courses such as pharmacology. Actually, our proposals are more generous in that the post-study work has to be at graduate level, but does not need to be in the discipline read for the first degree.