My Lords, a consultation on the student immigration system closed on
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
My Lords, I am sure the noble Baroness is right, but it is for the academic institutions to select their students.
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.
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.
The noble Lord makes a useful point. We clearly need to do more work to explain the situation to the academic institutions.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.