Visa crackdown on overseas students could signal end for Manchester melting pot, says uni boss

As a new academic term arrived last month, students’ thoughts turned to the apprehension of meeting new classmates and the exciting prospect of a new-found freedom.

Integrating with peers from all walks of life has been the lifeblood of universities for many generations.

A dramatic drop-in overseas students studying in the UK, however, could change the face of the student union if Government legislation doesn’t change.

The multicultural mix in Manchester remains strong with an internationally-renowned red brick university ensuring a unique cultural standing alongside the city’s industrial and sporting heritage.

It has been suggested a tighter visa entry policy will discourage potential students studying in Manchester.

Mike Gibbons, Director of Student Recruitment and International Development at Manchester University, said: “The narrative around immigration is, sadly, off-putting.

“The UK is no longer as welcoming and the reality is these students have the world to choose from. They’re not restricted to the UK.”

The number of oversea students arriving for study in the UK has fallen since 2011.

A figure estimated to be around 174,225 in 2010-11 has plummeted to 172,000 just two academic years later.

The introduction of a points-based system has ensured regulations for entering studying in the UK is now significantly tighter.

This was introduced to clamp down on bogus institutes inviting foreigners to study without visas being monitored.

Chief Executive of UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) Dominic Scott stated the main reasons for this abrupt tightening of visa restrictions came about from the abolition of Post Study Work scheme.

The scheme allowed non-EU students to stay and work for two years after graduation and the loss has in particular hit recruitment from India and Pakistan.

Manchester University accommodated concerns raised by Parliament by sharing the information they had on international students with visa control.

And they also monitored the activity of those coming to the Greater Manchester region to study.

Mr Gibbons said: “Manchester University has invested significant interest in maintaining visa ties.

“We haven’t bucked the trend as such but there has been a lot of additional work done behind the scenes to bring the students in.”

Speaking ahead of the annual student address this week, Vice Chancellor of Oxford University, Professor Andrew Hamilton slammed the coalition Government’s tightening of visa entry, asking exactly why the UK has adopted a visa entry system so strict to the UK.

Prof Hamilton further criticised a lack of investment in higher education and emphasised that Britain is falling dramatically behind their European peers in developing higher education.

The argument is that tighter restrictions are not only not in fitting with university culture, but also the economy in general.

Student spending by non-EU nationals on-and-off campus brings a reported £4 billion-a-year, according to figures collated by The Russell University Group.

A report published by Universities UK supports the claim that there is a need for a diverse student mix.

The report states around one-in-eight students enrolled on UK higher education institutions from outside the EU in the academic year 2012–13.

Cries to tear down a reported brick wall erected by central Government are coming from the National Union for Students (NUS).

Shreya Paudel, International Students’ Officer, said: “These new figures are hardly surprising and confirm what we have been saying all along.

“Many international students feel unwelcome in the UK as a result of the Government’s hostile and overzealous policies.

“International students contribute a huge amount to the UK economy and are an important part of the social, cultural and academic make-up of university life.”

Manchester’s cultural status pre-dates the crackdown on international students and the university is recognising that now is the time to act and set the barometer for others to follow.

Mr. Gibbons said: “I worry about the long-term damage in short-term immigration change.

“I don’t believe on the whole the general public believe students are immigrants, they’re paying their way and contributing to the next chapter in our cities future.”

The bigger picture suggests this legislation does not just point towards money, but is as much about the intellectual capital that overseas students bring.

Mr Gibbons said: “Aren’t British nationals going to need how the rest of the world operates and works?”

Manchester on the whole still stands as one of the leading regions nationally for welcoming students home and abroad.

The jury is out on whether or not the future will be more a case of a freshers’ bleak than another vibrant freshers’ week.

Image courtesy of UK Border Control with thanks

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