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Student Visas

Volume 524: debated on Monday 7 March 2011

We are considering the responses we received following closure of the recent consultation on reform of the student immigration system, which closed on 31 January. We are concluding our analysis of responses and will announce future plans for the student system in due course.

I thank the Minister for his reply. May I press him to reassure legitimate English language schools, such as the Winchester School of English in my constituency, which he has visited, and higher education institutions, including the university of Winchester, that new B2 English entry level requirements will not wipe out a critical source of their respective revenues?

My hon. Friend is right: I have visited that language school in his constituency and admired its work. One proposal in the consultation was to raise the English language requirement from B1 to B2, because we believe it is right that students should have a good command of English to complete their course. In responses to the consultation, universities and others have expressed concern about that proposal, and we are considering those representations as well as the many others that we have received.

Does the Minister recognise that, if the changes to student visa entry requirements are wrong, it will have a devastating impact on our universities and other educational institutions?

I recognise, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman does, that we need to strike the right balance so that the brightest and best students can come to this country and benefit it both in the short and the long term. At the same time, however, we recognise that we need to crack down on the many abuses of the student visa system under the previous Government, which have led to the widespread lack of confidence in our immigration system. Of course we need to strike a balance between those two demands, and we are confident that we will do so.

May I suggest to the Minister that all he has to do to deal with the unintended consequences of the proposals is to look at the findings and recommendations of the Home Affairs Committee in the previous Parliament? All problems would be dealt with.

It is a universal truth that reading Home Affairs Committee reports always leads to greater enlightenment. I have read the relevant report, and I always absorb the Committee’s reports, but I will redouble my efforts to ensure that I am familiar with every last detail of every report.

We all agree with the Home Secretary that bogus colleges should be closed, and most seem to be in the private sector. She and the Immigration Minister will know that further education colleges’ fee income from foreign students is £42 million, with a contribution to the economy of £80 million. We have 184 colleges that are registered as highly trusted sponsors, with more than 20,000 international students. When can they expect to know what will happen about non-degree courses? It does and will affect the budgets not only of colleges, but of universities.

The hon. Gentleman is right that the main abuse that we have found has been in private sector colleges at below-degree level, which is why one principal proposal on which we have consulted is that nobody will be able to offer a course at below-degree level unless they become a highly trusted sponsor. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that, on the whole, public sector bodies that apply for highly trusted sponsorship obtain it successfully, but many private sector bodies do not have such status, and that is one key distinction that we need to maintain—that only people whom we can trust to do the job properly should be enabled to bring foreign students to this country.