Stu­dent visa red tape costs some univer­si­ties £500,000 a year

THE (Times Higher Education) - - NEWS - Jack.grove@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­

UK univer­si­ties are spend­ing tens of mil­lions of pounds a year com­ply­ing with im­mi­gra­tion red tape, new fig­ures sug­gest.

Data ob­tained by Study Group, which pre­pares in­ter­na­tional stu­dents for uni­ver­sity en­try, found that sev­eral univer­si­ties are spend­ing about £500,000 each to sat­isfy Tier 4 visa reg­u­la­tions, which ap­ply to the ma­jor­ity of in­ter­na­tional stu­dents from out­side the Euro­pean Union study­ing in the UK.

Us­ing the Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act, the com­pany asked 50 UK univer­si­ties to state how much it cost them to com­ply with Home Of­fice rules each year. Around half of in­sti­tu­tions did not record the in­for­ma­tion and some re­fused to an­swer, but 20 did hold records, stat­ing it cost them about £4 mil­lion in to­tal to abide by im­mi­gra­tion rules, such as the mon­i­tor­ing of stu­dents.

The Uni­ver­sity of Not­ting­ham spent the most on visa com­pli­ance with a yearly bill es­ti­mated at £500,000 and was fol­lowed by the Uni­ver­sity of Manch­ester (£485,000) and Brunel Uni­ver­sity Lon­don (£451,000). Lon­don South Bank Uni­ver­sity spent £350,000 on visa com­pli­ance, while four in­sti­tu­tions (the univer­si­ties of Bournemouth, Glas­gow and West­min­ster, as well as the Uni­ver­sity of the West of Eng­land) paid out be­tween £200,000 and £300,000 a year.

Given the out­lay by these 20 univer­si­ties alone, the sec­tor’s to­tal bill for com­ply­ing with Tier 4 reg­u­la­tions is likely to run into tens of mil­lions of pounds, the fig­ures sug­gest.

In fact, the cost of com­pli­ance may be far higher be­cause univer­si­ties had dif­fer­ent ap­proaches as to what counted as ex­pen­di­ture on this area; the Uni­ver­sity of Ox­ford, where one-third of its stu­dents are in­ter­na­tional, said it spent just £58,000 on com­pli­ance, while the Uni­ver­sity of Brighton claimed to spend only £8,000 a year in this area.

James Pit­man, Study Group’s man­ag­ing di­rec­tor for higher ed­u­ca­tion in the UK and Europe, said the fig­ures “high­light how the UK Bor­der Agency com­pli­ance regime had be­come in­cred­i­bly com­plex”.

The com­pany’s own an­nual com- pli­ance bill stood at £1.9 mil­lion, partly be­cause their 375 staff who cor­re­spond with about 3,000 stu­dent re­cruit­ment agents carry out work pre­vi­ously done by univer­si­ties them­selves, Mr Pit­man said.

“As the Home Of­fice has in­tro­duced new rules, they have trans­ferred a lot of the check­ing and mon­i­tor­ing to the sec­tor it­self,” said Mr Pit­man.

“The Home Of­fice is sav­ing money, but the cost to the higher ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor has gone up,” he added.

Univer­si­ties had faced a “dou­ble whammy” on visa com­pli­ance be­cause the Home Of­fice had si­mul­ta­ne­ously made it more dif­fi­cult for stu­dents to ap­ply suc­cess­fully while shift­ing the cost bur­den on to univer­si­ties, Mr Pit­man ar­gued.

“If the Home Of­fice had been more wel­com­ing to stu­dents peo­ple would be much hap­pier with this trans­fer of costs,” he said.

How­ever, Mr Pit­man said there had been a “no­tice­able change in the at­ti­tude of many [govern­ment] de­part­ments” since the pub­li­ca­tion of new data by the Of­fice for Na­tional Sta­tis­tics in Au­gust, which showed high rates of visa com­pli­ance by over­seas stu­dents – con­trary to pre­vi­ous as­ser­tions by the Home Of­fice and Theresa May. The pre­vi­ous es­ti­mate of il­le­gal over­stay­ers was 100,000 and had been used by Mrs May to jus­tify plans for tougher stu­dent visa re­quire­ments.

“It is now vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to find any­one from any party will­ing to sup­port that po­si­tion,” said Mr Pit­man, who de­scribed the over­seas stu­dent mar­ket as hav­ing the “great­est po­ten­tial for growth of any UK ex­port mar­ket in post-Brexit Bri­tain”. The Mi­gra­tion Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee is now un­der­tak­ing a study into the value of in­ter­na­tional stu­dents to the UK econ­omy.

In a state­ment, the Home Of­fice said: “As spon­sors, univer­si­ties ben­e­fit di­rectly from this mi­gra­tion and it is only right that they ful­fil cer­tain du­ties to en­sure that the sys­tem is not abused.”

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