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Student Visas

Volume 579: debated on Monday 28 April 2014

The Government have overhauled the student visa route with a range of measures to combat abuse, while continuing to attract the brightest and best students to the UK’s world-class universities. Our reforms have resulted in 700 education providers being removed as sponsors to bring students into the UK. The total number of tier 4 student visas has fallen by a third since 2010, while visa applications from university students continue to increase.

I welcome the clampdown on abuses of the student visa system, but will the Minister assure the House that our world-class universities, including my local award-winning university, Huddersfield university, where overseas students come from more than 120 countries, will still be allowed to grow their courses with these students from around the globe? May I invite the Minister to come and visit Huddersfield university?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for championing his local university, and I note from the latest statistics that the total number of non-EU students at the university of Huddersfield has risen by 16%. I am happy to meet him to discuss the position further, but there has been abuse of the student visa system and we are tackling this while placing no limit on the number of genuine international students, whom we welcome to our world-class universities.

Although it is quite right that action should be taken against bogus colleges, does the Minister accept that both the tone and the nature of some of the Government’s actions have created an impression, widely understood by very reputable higher education institutions, that it is now less easy for able students from many parts of the world, including the Indian sub-continent, to gain access to courses here for legitimate study?

I do not accept that. I note that the Higher Education Funding Council for England published a report on 10 April indicating that student entrants were up. We continue to work with colleagues across Government. It is notable that we have seen new entrants from key markets including China, Malaysia and Hong Kong. We very much welcome international students to study at our fantastic universities.

18. Does my hon. Friend accept that although of course we warmly welcome students from all over the world to our excellent universities, they must leave when they are meant to do so? May I suggest that he encourages the universities themselves to play a greater part in seeing to it that that happens? (903703)

I agree with my right hon. Friend. There has been abuse of the system, with people coming to this country not to study, but to work. We have worked closely with the universities sector, and there has been a successful pilot with one university to encourage universities to see that students do leave at the end of their studies. We will continue to roll that out, as well as working with immigration enforcement to see that those who are not entitled to be here do leave.

Has the Minister seen the comments from Anton Muscatelli, the principal of Glasgow university, who says that this Government are in effect saying to international students, “Don’t come here, we’re closed for business, closed for education”? I know that the Home Office—I hear the Home Secretary saying this—always thinks it knows better than the Scottish academic and university community, but will the Minister at least acknowledge that we have a bit of an issue with this?

There is no limit on the number of students who can legitimately come to this country to study. When the hon. Gentleman looks at the statistics and the information, he will see that the number of visa applications coming to universities has gone up by 7%. We continue to underline that this country welcomes students to our world-class universities in Scotland and in the rest of the United Kingdom.