Universities could lose right to recruit foreign students


Universities face losing the right to recruit foreign students under a migration crackdown.

Institutions that have high drop-out rates, or where students are given a place but fail to enrol, face being stripped of their licence to sponsor overseas students, a major source of income that cross-subsidises UK students and research.

The move is part of a crackdown announced by James Cleverly, the Home Secretary, and Gillian Keegan, the Education Secretary, amid concern that some universities are accepting poor quality students who are using their courses as a back-door route to enter the UK.

There will also be new, more stringent English tests for foreign students, a rise in the amount of money students are required to show they have each month to support themselves and tougher rules to counter rogue agents.

Mr Cleverly has, however, stepped back from more radical proposals to scrap or scale back the two-year graduate visas after government migration advisers warned they could jeopardise courses and even lead to the closure of some universities.

“Applications are already falling sharply, down by almost a quarter on key routes in the first four months of this year compared to last, with the full impact of our package still to be seen,” he said.

“But we must go further to make sure our immigration routes aren’t abused. That’s why we are cracking down on rogue international agents and, building on work across Government, to ensure international students are coming here to study, not work.”

Universities will have to meet new standards for foreign students or have their licences to take them revoked. The “core” rules dictate that they should have a visa refusal rate for overseas student applicants of below 10 per cent, at least 90 per cent turning up to enrol and more than 85 per cent completing their courses.

Students will be expected to provide evidence that they have sufficient funds to pay for any outstanding course fees and support themselves. They will be increased from the current level of £1,334 for students in London and £1,023 for outside London.

The Government said it was reviewing English language tests to ensure “all international students are equipped with the skills to understand their course materials – or they shouldn’t expect a spot at a UK university”.

Ministers will crack down on universities that allow students to do all their studies abroad simply to benefit from UK work opportunities afterwards. New rules will require the students to spend most of their time physically based at the university.

A new registration scheme for education agents will be introduced after it emerged that they were recruiting foreign students on far lower grades than those demanded of UK applicants.

A newspaper undercover investigation found that wealthy foreign teenagers can gain access to highly competitive degree courses with just a handful of Cs at GCSE. The same degree courses require British students to achieve an A or A* at A-level.

Other tougher options have been shelved but could still be introduced if the new measures fail to stamp out abuses. These include scrapping the graduate visa, reducing it to one year, limiting it to high-performing universities, or restricting it to economically valuable degrees such as science and engineering.

The Government also remains concerned that the visa is not attracting the highest earners who contribute to our economy.

Analysis from the HMRC and the Home Office showed that more than a quarter of graduate visa holders were not found to be in PAYE employment at any point during the financial year ending 2023. Of those that were, the majority (63 per cent) were not in PAYE employment for the full year.