Universities chosen for UK’s pilot visa scheme ‘not reflective’ of higher education landscape – report

Senior figures in the UK’s higher education sector have questioned the Home Office’s decision to test a new visa scheme at only four universities, all of which are located in the south of England, claiming that the pilot was “not reflective of the UK higher education landscape”.

Earlier this month, the Home Office announced the launch of a two-year pilot program which is limited to students applying for Master’s courses at University of OxfordUniversity of CambridgeUniversity of Bath, and Imperial College London.

Participating students will go through less stringent requirements in their visa application compared to students at other institutions. For example, they are allowed to submit fewer supporting documents.

Under the pilot, they can also stay in the UK for an additional six months after completing their studies to facilitate looking for a job via the Tier 2 skilled worker visa route.

While a number of those in the higher education sector viewed the visa scheme positively, many also felt that the changes were too “modest” even if they were to be implemented nationwide, as the extra six months were still far less than the two years allowed under the now-defunct post-study work visa, reported Times Higher Education.

The University of Sheffield’s vice-chancellor Keith Burnett said that while “any and all efforts to address” student visa concerns were welcomed, “a small pilot offering modest change is not enough”.

“As a country now more than ever we need to show in words and deed that we are open to the world, and that our universities and research are world-class precisely because they draw on talented undergraduate and postgraduate students from every continent on the globe,” he added.

The University of Glasgow’s vice-principal for internationalization, James Conroy, commented that he would like to have seen the pilot “more distributed”.

“If you look at Australia, for example, people get visas on the basis that they are going to stay and work in a particular city …They [visa holders] have to do that for a predetermined period of time before they can move anywhere else.

“So there are more creative ways of thinking about this, particularly when you think of the disparities in population densities and economic capacity [between different parts of the UK],” he said.

Conroy added that while there were parts of England which did not want any more migrants, Scotland did not share that viewpoint: “We, certainly in Scotland, would warmly welcome people from anywhere prepared to make a contribution to Scottish life.”

University of Bedfordshire vice-chancellor, Bill Rammell, agreed with concerns over the pilot scheme’s selectivity: “By restricting the pilot to four highly selective universities, the scheme is not reflective of the UK higher education landscape and is dismissive of the vital role other universities have in contributing to the economy of the country, and the huge contribution we make to positive global exports.”

A University of Warwick spokesman hoped that after the two-year pilot, the scheme could be rolled out to a wider range of universities, in addition to being expanded to encompass students at all study levels.

“Furthermore, we would ask for the additional grant of leave at the end of the course to be extended to at least one full year,” they suggested.

Image via Flickr 

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