If foreign students enter the country, universities risk bankruptcy, the government’s chief migration adviser warned.
Professor Brian Bell, chair of the Migration Advisory Committee, said steps to bar foreign students from lower-ranking universities or courses could deprive the institutions of vital revenue, force them into bankruptcy and undermine the government’s leveling agenda could undermine.
However, he said the government was right to consider the right of foreign students to bring in relatives, following an increase in the number of dependents arriving over the past three years.
His comments follow shocking data from Thursday which showed net migration had hit a post-war high of 504,000 in the year to June, with more than 1.3 million visas issued to foreigners seeking to live, study or work in the UK .
Figures from the Ministry of the Interior showed that foreign students are up 77 percent to a high of 476,389. A fifth of them were granted visas to bring in a record 116,000 family members.
This represented a seven-fold increase from the 16,047 dependents granted visas in 2019, when only six per cent of overseas students brought their partners or children to the UK.
‘Low quality’ diplomas
Rishi Sunak’s official spokesman said “all options” are being considered, including limiting the number of dependents and limiting access to “low-quality” degrees.
Professor Bell said universities have been expanding places for international students, largely because tuition fees for domestic students have been frozen for a decade or more.
This meant that the higher fees paid by foreign and postgraduate students cross-subsidized the losses for home students.
“You have to be very careful about what you do because of cross-subsidies from international students. It could win over more universities,’ he said.
“You can’t see this as immigration policy. It is also an education policy. For example, are you going to massively increase the tuition fees paid by British students to compensate for the losses if you discontinue the international student route?”
Asked on TUSEN Radio if this meant universities going out of business, Professor Bell said: “Yes. Most universities and most courses lose money teaching British students and make up for that loss by charging more for international students.
“If you close the international route, I don’t know how the university will continue to exist.”
Calls for investigation
However, he said the increase in the number of dependents of foreign students was an area where the government “might want to think about whether that offer is right in terms of being able to bring in dependents”.
He said this was particularly the case for one-year master’s programs “where it may be less clear why you should admit dependents in the same way”.
Nigerians had as many dependents as there were students, with 51,648 relatives against 50,980 students. Libyans brought more dependents than students, with 467 relatives against 305 students. Other countries with at least one family member for every two students were Sri Lanka, Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Iran.
Professor Alan Smithers, director of the center for education and employment research at Buckingham University, said the increase should be examined because of the risk that visas could be used as “a means of entering a country where it might otherwise be difficult “.
Madeleine Sumption, director of the University of Oxford’s Migration Observatory, said it could be a result of the growing number of students moving to countries where people traditionally bring more dependents, such as Nigeria and India.
India has become the largest source of foreign students at British universities, overtaking China, whose students hardly bring any family members with them. In contrast, the 127,814 Indian students brought 33,239 family members with them.