The vice-chancellors of universities across the UK are accusing UK Visas and Immigration of arbitrarily rejecting student visa applications as part of the Home Office’s plans to drastically reduce international student numbers.

According to the Guardian, the Home Office is considering decreasing the current annual figures of foreign students by nearly half, from 300,000 to 170,000 a year.

Last month, Times Higher Education also published a report alleging that the Home Office had modelled a “dramatic reduction” in overseas student numbers – cutting up to two-thirds of current figures.

In response to the report, a Home Office spokesperson said the rumours were “categorically untrue”.

“Claims the Home Office is modelling cuts to reduce international students to a third [i.e. 100,000 a year] are categorically untrue. We want to strengthen the system to support the best universities – and those that stick to the rules – to attract the best talent.

“The British people have sent a clear message that they want more control of immigration and we are committed to getting net migration down to sustainable levels in the tens of thousands,” they said.

However, vice-chancellors are claiming that genuine students are already facing difficulties in obtaining their visas.

Education Guardian reported several examples, such as how an applicant was rejected because he did not know the university library opening times, while another was turned away for not knowing the name of his university’s vice-chancellor.

According to one vice-chancellor, who wished to remain anonymous, students from India are facing tougher visa interviews, with Immigration officers asking them why they wish to come to the UK for their studies when “there is exactly the same quality of course available in India”.

Some applicants are also being questioned as to whether their chosen course was an “appropriate” use of their money.

“Some applicants are being asked questions we would never ask a domestic student, about what they will be doing at 25 and 30 and what they will be earning at 40,” said the source, adding that the line of questioning was “clearly designed to make the applicant reconsider”.

Cardiff University Vice-Chancellor, Professor Colin Riordan, commented: “The Home Office seems to have decided that cutting international students is the only way of delivering the manifesto target of getting net migration down to the tens of thousands. But it doesn’t address people’s concerns about immigration. The problems people are seeing on the ground are certainly not caused by international university students or staff.”

He added that the current visa system was enough to stop abuse: “If they are refused a visa, they aren’t coming here, so where is the problem?”

As one of the Vice-Chancellors who accompanied Prime Minister Theresa May to India recently for trade talks, Sheffield University’s Sir Keith Burnett has also warned against the UK government’s “deeply damaging” view of international students, which has been deemed “unwelcoming” by many.

“If we genuinely want to be open to the world and a global leader in free trade, we can only do so by welcoming talent. This cannot simply be our own assessment; international students need to feel welcome and that accessing the UK to study and for a period of work experience is easy.

“Even a hint that students are unwelcome and they will go elsewhere,” he said, adding that other popular study destinations, such as Australia and Canada, were benefiting by welcoming students who have been turned away from the UK.

A recent poll of British adults, published in October, revealed that 87 percent of them supported having the same number or more of international students in the UK, while 91 percent believe that international students should be able to stay and work in the UK after completing their studies.

Image via Reuters

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