160 academic institutions have recently protested about feeling under pressure to check the accountability of their foreign students.
The letter said, “British universities have been positioned as central culprits for failing to regulate their intake of foreign students”.
According to IPPR.org, the UK has been dubbed as the second most popular destination for international students. Student visas offer a way for immigrants to legally study at British universities and it has been found that they are increasing in popularity. This is found to be especially prominent in Chinese nationals.
Figure 1: Top ten nationalities issued study visas (excluding student visas), 2013
The Home Office is putting more pressure on academic institutions to police the details of immigrants who wish to study in the UK. Universities such as Oxford, Warwick, Durham and Sheffield have spoken up about feeling used as a continuation of the work that UK Border Police undertake.
The issue of immigration is currently one of the most hotly debated topics in the United Kingdom to date. It is also a widely known fact that immigrants come into the country for a ‘better life’. They believe that the UK offers better opportunities in the areas of education and work.
Objections against enforced policing
Mette Berg of the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology at Oxford University said, “We have a duty of care towards our students, and there is an issue about this undermining the trust between tutor and student”.
The objections that were included in the letter were that universities were being taken advantage of by the Home Office. This is because it has requested that universities use their pastoral care to monitor student attendance and meetings with tutors.
In the letter, universities have accused the Home Office of treating non-EU students differently from UK and EU students. Monitoring foreign student’s behaviour was another grievance that was mentioned. Universities have accused the Home Office of forcing academic institutions to monitor non-academic undertakings and reporting these findings to the Home Office.
Enforcing rules for foreigners wishing to study in the UK
In 1996, in Section 11 of the Local Government Act, a law was passed which stipulated that funds would be made available to meet the needs of immigrants who are currently residing in the UK. The law specifically mentioned that the funds will support people with different language or customs from that of the UK.
Despite this law, a Home Office spokesperson stated that the student visa application process was re-evaluated to be made more vigorous and less open to abuse.
There have been accusations made that immigrants have been taking advantage of the British law system. The NHS for instance, is a prime example. The Queen’s Speech in late 2013 stipulated the end of immigrants taking advantage of the service.
Academic institutions protest against being used
Universities pride themselves as independent institutions. Oxford, Warwick, Durham and Sheffield universities have accused the Home Office of “undermining the autonomy and academic freedom of UK universities and their students”.
The stronger enforcements introduced by the Home Office has been in response to London Metropolitan University’s misdemeanour. The university temporarily lost its sponsor status in 2012. The new changes have also been made in response to higher education institutions becoming increasingly dependent on foreign students. This is due to the fees that they provide British universities. In terms of the UK economy, immigrants currently contribute £13bn.
Nicola Pratt from Warwick University stated that, “It is a major concern that the government is targeting overseas students as a way of meeting immigration targets”. Pratt also said, “These students are investing a huge amount into the higher education system”.
Alice Sachrajda, a Research Fellow at IPPR stated that, “The reduction in foreign student numbers is being driven by the net migration target, which is designed to meet the public’s concern about high immigration”.
Large numbers of foreigners arriving in short periods of time has been seen as a valid policy objective by the government to diminish the number of immigrants entering the country. This is to reduce pressures on communities in the country.
Why foreign students are attracted to the UK
Immigrants are attracted to studying in the UK, as it offers “a better quality of education” according to Immigration Matters. Since 1966, the British government has been supporting the English as an Additional Language (EAL) scheme. In addition, the Ethnic Minority Achievement Grant (EMAG) was issued to educational authorities in the country. These laws have made coming to the UK a very attractive option for foreigners.
What the 160 academic institutions propose
The letter produced by the 160 academics requests the end of institutional immigration checks. It asks for their non-EU students to be treated respectfully and equally. Universities UK has also been requested to speak out on behalf of British universities against monitoring foreign students.