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Foreign Students

Volume 535: debated on Monday 7 November 2011

9. What steps she is taking to strengthen the accreditation regime for colleges that admit foreign students. (78447)

16. What steps she is taking to strengthen the accreditation regime for colleges that admit foreign students. (78454)

Our fundamental reforms of student visas include a rigorous new inspection regime for private colleges. These tough new rules, coupled with robust enforcement action by the UK Border Agency, mean that more than 450 colleges have now lost their right to recruit international students under the points-based system. Only colleges offering a genuine, high-quality education will be able to sponsor international students in future.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her reply and commend her for the work she is doing in this area. Does she agree that the news last week that one in five colleges has lost its sponsor licence status shows that the accreditation scheme set up by her and her Department is working to stop the widespread abuse of the visa system?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and what I have announced today is just the start. All private colleges will have to go through that rigorous accreditation system by the end of the year and those that fail the system will no longer be able to bring in international students.

I am pleased to hear that the Government are successfully shutting off immigration through bogus colleges with the accreditation scheme, and I was glad to hear the answer to the previous question.

My hon. Friend has mentioned the accreditation scheme for colleges, but of course we are going further in taking action against individual students as well as restricting their rights. We have introduced new rules on English language and we have restricted students’ rights to work and to bring in family members. Next April we will close the post-study work route that has allowed graduates two years’ free access to the labour market here in the UK. We want to make sure that those who come to study are coming genuinely to study and not to work.

We do need to cut out the incentives for people who abuse the student visa route, but there will of course be cases when a mature student wishes to be accompanied by their spouse and children of school age. What are the Government doing to prevent abuse of the system by those who see this as a loophole through which they believe they can bring any number of dependants into this country?

As I indicated in my previous answer, we are taking action against students as well as against colleges. We are restricting the right for students to bring in family members. Only postgraduate students at universities can bring in dependants and we have changed the rules so that only those at universities and public colleges can work while they are studying. That means that we can continue to attract the brightest and best to our academic institutions while ensuring that we get rid of abuse.

I hope that the Home Secretary was not too busy at the weekend to read the report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs that was published on Friday—specifically paragraph 44, which expresses astonishment that the UK Border Agency has been unable to tell us how many students have been deported for breaching their leave and that it does not recognise the term, “bogus college”. Does she not think it extraordinary that the main agency dealing with these matters does not accept a term that she, I and the whole of Parliament have always used to describe such colleges?

I think that what matters is not the term we use but the action we take. That is why action is being taken to ensure that those colleges that have not been offering education to students are no longer able to bring in students and that we get rid of abuse in the student visa system, which has been a problem in this country for far too long.

I support any measures that root out any abuses in the immigration system, but what discussions has the Secretary of State had with universities such as the university of Warwick that have expressed concern about student numbers from abroad because they rely mainly on such students to exist?

Before we put our policy into place, we had significant discussions with representatives from the university sector. We continue to talk to universities about the impact of the student visa system that we have introduced, and that scheme ensures that institutions that are offering a genuine education are able to bring in the brightest and best students, but it is up to them and us to make it clear that students are still able to come and learn at our universities from overseas.