Foreign students spurn UK universities after immigration curbs

Russell Group warns that tougher visa rules are leading to a drop in overseas applicants

International students are spurning the UK's most prestigious universities as a re sult of Government immigration curbs, The Independent can reveal.

Some courses at universities in the Russell Group – which represents 24 top institutions, including Oxford and Cambridge – have seen a drop of up to 30 per cent in applications from Indian students.

The impact of strict new visa rules has been compounded by the negative publicity that followed the revoking of London Metropolitan University's (LMU) licence to teach overseas students last month.

The drop in applications for courses starting this month also follows the murder of Indian student Anuj Bidve in Manchester last Christmas. But university leaders said the Government's immigration clampdown was the decisive factor.

Dr Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, said: "As ministers crack down on abuse of the system, they must be careful about the messages they send to the world's best and brightest students."

Under new visa regulations that came into force in April, students face tougher questions about their destination, limits on their ability to work and harder questions on their English-language capability. The Russell Group says overseas-student numbers must be maintained because educating non-EU citizens is "a major UK export industry" that brings in £2.5bn a year in fees.

The application figures come as Craig Calhoun, the new director of the London School of Economics, spoke of his "concern" about overseas recruitment in an interview with The Independent.

He revealed there has been a "modest drop" in the acceptance of places from international students because "people are worried about the possibility the Government might suddenly and without notice revoke visas".

"If you are a bright student and you have offers from the LSE and Cambridge and Harvard and you haven't got a visa for the UK, what are you going to do? Every year we have students turned down for visas for reasons we can't fathom."

He added that the LMU affair – where the university has won the right for a judicial review of the situation – had done "untold reputational damage" to the UK higher education system.

His comments, echoed by other universities, are the first signs of the impact immigration controls are having on student numbers.

At the University of East Anglia, Professor Edward Acton, its vice-chancellor, said "negative vibes" towards international students and academics were putting people off applying. The university had already had one "near genius" mathematician unable to take up a post because of visa restrictions.

"The regulations said we couldn't appoint him if anybody within the EU could do the job," he said. "There was – but they didn't take into account a stellar Russian who could get you a Nobel Prize."

That restriction has now been lifted but Professor Acton said the repercussions could still be felt as his colleagues received the message it was impossible to get a visa to work in England.

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