UWS principal and vice chancellor warns Home Secretary of damaging impact on Higher Education by proposed immigration curbs

07 Oct 2016

Professor Craig Mahoney2
Proposed curbs on immigration announced by Home Secretary Amber Rudd could cause “severe and long-lasting damage” to Higher Education, the Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West of Scotland has warned.

Professor Craig Mahoney spoke out after the Home Secretary unveiled plans to restrict students coming to the UK and tailor immigration rules “to the quality of the course and the quality of the educational institution.”

Responding to her speech at the Conservative Party Conference, Professor Mahoney said: “The Home Secretary has said the Government intends to consult universities on its plans and I sincerely hope this will be a genuine listening exercise because her announcement has some very serious implications for the Higher Education Sector.

“First and foremost, overseas students make an outstanding contribution economically, socially and culturally to the UK.   Universities UK say that non-EU students contribute £7 billion to the UK economy, generating almost 137,000 jobs in communities in every region of the UK.

“International staff make a vital contribution to our universities and country. The UK has one of the strongest university systems in the world and is in a prime position to build on this and boost the country’s export earnings.”

Professor Mahoney also questioned the Home Secretary’s assertion that student immigration rules should be tailored to the “quality” of the course and the educational institution.

He said: “Any suggestion that only so-called ‘good’ courses or universities should be the focus of growth is confusing and requires clarification.  Every single university in the UK is externally validated, so the quality of the product is not in doubt. Quality should also be judged on the impact the course has on the student’s life, or the benefit to the university’s local community.

“Here at UWS, internationalisation is a major priority for us as is attracting overseas students.  Why should our aspirations to be a major international player in Higher Education be restricted?   You can’t ask universities to be entrepreneurial and then restrict their ability to attract students, particularly when all the stringent verifications for students attending these institutions are already in place.

“Attracting international students brings expertise, non-State-funds and disposable income to regional economies throughout the UK.  We risk putting all of that in jeopardy.  There is also a strong cultural case to be made for overseas students in that they enhance our communities and give other students an international insight they wouldn’t necessarily be exposed to.”

Professor Mahoney said the Government’s plans could also undermine universities’ competitiveness on the world stage.  

“Researchers from around the globe are attracted to UK universities because they do world-leading research.  That affects universities’ ratings in a positive sense and is why the UK has so many universities in the world top rankings.  The irony here is that ‘British workers for British jobs’ puts our status as a world leader in Higher Education under threat.

“In addition, I would challenge strongly the Home Secretary’s comments that foreign students do not have to be proficient in English.  English language proficiency for all university tier 4 students coming to the UK is a clear requirement and this is also a significant factor in visa applications.

“I would urge the Government to think very carefully about the route they have embarked on because it risks causing severe and lasting damage to the Higher Education sector and the wider UK economy.  Overseas students should not feature in the immigration totals – it is completely the wrong approach.

“Here at UWS, we will make the strongest possible representations as an institution and work with our partner institutions and through Universities UK and Universities Scotland to persuade the Government to alter its course.”