There continues to be much in the news regarding the recruitment of overseas students and views as to whether England is seen as welcoming and supportive to future non-EU students.
With the fallout from the UK Border Agency's decision to strip London Metropolitan University of its ability to host oversea students still growing, many academic institutions are now facing intense scrutiny over their international recruitment strategies.
To date much of the tabloid coverage has focused on the value of these students in monetary terms versus concerns regarding immigration. These arguments miss the point.
Higher education is growing in importance and plays a central role in economic growth. It needs to be sustained but in doing so Vice chancellors and ministers need to remain focused on the fact higher education operates in a global environment
Overseas students make a major contribution to the UK economy, not just to UK universities. The government's own impact assessment report on the reform of the student immigration system estimated the changes being imposed on student visas would generate a loss of c£2.4 billion over four years.
Whilst such losses will mainly hit the economy, universities themselves will also be faced by the estimated loss of some £170 million in fees. This will impact on delivery and potentially viability of some fields within subsets of universities. This in turn will effect on the level of variety and choice available to UK students and with less funding will impact on the investment in facilities available in a globally competitive market. In short, fewer overseas students mean poorer facilities and fewer places for UK students.
Funding is not though the sole driver for overseas recruitment. Research focused universities also need overseas students to contribute to their academic environment. Universities wish to attract the best and most able students possible. Higher education institutions thrive on the exchange of people and of ideas - the students help create the dynamic environment that is needed to shape world leading entrepreneurial activity. The best of those students then become the future researchers that then support the core research base within the university. The desire to attract the best students possible is central to any university if it is to create the environment required to compete in this global arena.
There is also a question of culture. Universities provide places where ideals can be challenged. They provide a place where new friendships are made and where through knowledge and greater understanding, hopefully, a better society and more secure future is created. It is certainly true that many students on returning to their home country will remain in touch with their alma mater and the friends made, often becoming great advocates of the UK in later life. These relationships will help underpin the future of UK plc.
England is not seen as providing as warm a welcome for students as it once was. Certainly countries such as Australia, the US, Canada and increasingly other EU states are becoming seen as favoured locations.
Yes this will impact financially in the short term but in the medium term, if it damages the UK's ability to attract the best students available, it could lead to a decline in the UK's standing as a world leader in higher education.
The government clearly has to deal with any abuse of the visa system wherever it occurs. But it is vital that they also work with those organisations that have spent many decades developing the UK's position in the field of education to carefully manage our global reputation.
Ministers need to be aware that it is not their words but their actions that make a lasting impression on overseas students - and the message they are sending now is not a welcoming one.
Overseas students bring far more than funds - they bring intellectual and cultural wealth that once lost will be hard to regain. They also form the future links that will support the development of international economic partnerships between UK and overseas companies. Let's do everything we can to protect that.
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