British universities could be hit financially if overseas students are deterred from studying in the UK as a result of new immigration rules, leaders in the higher education sector have warned.
The Government’s decision to ban overseas students – apart from postgraduates on research programmes – from obtaining visas for their dependants, could be “damaging”, a union leader has said.
The restrictions are set to apply to international students beginning courses after January 2024.
Jamie Arrowsmith, director of Universities UK International, has called on the Government to limit the impact of changes to the immigration rules on universities already under “serious financial pressures”.
“Anything that threatens to affect the UK’s global success as a top destination for international talent needs to be considered very carefully,” Mr Arrowsmith said.
Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi), said he hoped that Suella Braverman will now lobby the Chancellor “to help universities recoup their losses” following the announcement.
He said: “This is not a wise move because every part of the UK benefits from the presence of international students and, if they are discouraged from coming to the UK, they won’t stay at home but instead go to our competitors.”
Home Office figures, released in February, show that 22% of all sponsored-study-related visas granted in 2022 were to dependants of students (135,788), compared to 6% (16,047) in 2019.
Nigeria had the highest number of dependants (60,923) of sponsored study visa holders in 2022, and India had the second highest number of dependants (38,990).
Last week, the Office for Students (OfS) warned that an over-reliance on tuition fees from overseas students – especially from a single country like China – is a financial risk for English universities. Many of the institutions with the largest number of Chinese students are members of the Russell Group.
On the curbs on overseas students bringing family to the UK, Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group, which represents some of the most selective institutions in the UK, said they were “likely to have a negative impact on universities’ plans to diversify their international student intakes”.
Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), called the tightening of immigration rules by the Home Office “a vindictive move”.
She said: “It is clear that deep concern is already being felt across the sector as to just how damaging the package of measures announced by the Home Secretary could be to the pipeline of international talent coming to the UK.
“This is another deeply shameful moment for a Government hell-bent on attacking migrants and undermining our universities.”