Universities could go bankrupt if the government limits the number of foreign students in an effort to curb net migration, an immigration policy adviser warned.
Rishi Sunak’s possible plan to crack down on international students who earn “low-quality” degrees could “win over many universities,” particularly in poorer regions, said the chair of the Migration Advisory Committee of the government.
Professor Brian Bell told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Most universities lose money for most courses teaching British students and make up for that loss by charging more for international students.
“If you close the international route, I don’t know how the university will survive.”
He said that London, Cambridge and Oxford would do well if foreign students only got places at ‘elite’ universities, and asked: ‘But what about Newcastle, what about the North East, the North West, Scotland? ‘
“If you’re interested in the leveling agenda, you might want to worry about harming universities across Britain,” the King’s College economics professor added.
He pointed out that it is not just an immigration policy, but an education policy as it could lead to a “massive increase” in UK students’ tuition fees to make up for the loss of payments from foreign students.
A No. 10 spokesman declined to say what constitutes a “low quality” diploma when urged to provide a government definition on Friday.
Asked about concerns that the potential policy will harm universities and the UK economy, the official said: “Of course we support our universities – they are among the very best in the world – and of course we will always act in the best interests of the UK.”
The Prime Minister is considering cracking down on international students who bring dependent children and restricting access to top universities, Downing Street said on Thursday after net migration to the UK rose to a record half million.
His official spokesman stressed that Mr Sunak is “fully committed” to bringing down the overall immigration level and blamed “unprecedented and unique circumstances” for the record high.
The official said: “We are considering all options to ensure that the immigration system works, and that includes looking at the issue of dependent students and low-quality degrees.”
This would be in line with proposals being explored by Interior Secretary Suella Braverman, who previously complained about foreign students “bringing in family members who can piggyback on their student visas” and “supporting frankly substandard courses in inadequate institutions.”
Professor Bell said limiting the number of family members students can bring to the UK was “well worth looking into”.
“If you are an undergraduate student, you are not allowed to bring a dependent, but students who are in masters and PhD programs are allowed to bring a dependent and that has increased from – it used to be very small, about 20,000 visas per year – and it’s up to about 70,000 or 80,000 now.
“That’s an area where the government might want to think about whether the offer is good…particularly for one-year master’s programs, it might be less clear why we should allow dependents.”
It is estimated that in the 12 months to June 2022, around 504,000 more people moved to the UK than left, a sharp increase from 173,000 in the year to June 2021.
The estimates were compiled by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which said the jump was caused by “unique” factors, including visa regulations for Ukrainians and Hong Kong residents, and students arriving from outside the European Union.
According to the ONS, people arriving on study visas accounted for the bulk of the long-term immigration of non-EU nationals, at 277,000 or 39% of the total.
The proposal was also met with derision in Scotland, with Deputy First Minister John Swinney describing the move as “stupid” and Higher Education Minister Jamie Hepburn saying: “Such proposals from the UK Government would be very damaging to Scotland’s world class. ” university sector.
“International students who come to our world-class institutions make an important and valuable contribution to the Scottish economy, our educational environment and society.
“We remain absolutely committed to our universities, our students and free higher education for Scotland-domiciled students – based on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay.”