Criticisms have been made this week of government plans to cut student visa numbers drastically from 250,000 to 75,000 per year. Ministers claim it is part of a “tough” long-term plan to solve the “crisis” in the immigration system inherited from the last government. However, the plans have been heavily criticised, with the accusation made that in a short-sighted attempt to save £840 million in the budget, the government is actually risking a cost of £3.5 billion to the economy by cutting student numbers so drastically.
These concerns were laid out in an “impact assessment” report prepared by the Home Affairs Committee. It revealed that the financial damage done to the economy by heavily culling student visas would far outweigh any benefit made by savings to the budget. Committee Chairman Keith Vaz declared the Home Secretary’s “dismissal of the impact assessment very disappointing”, and accused the government of “making policy without adequate immigration statistics”.
No Financial Sense
There are clear parallels here with the government’s new higher education policy, where a raft of concerned MPs, protesters and independent research bodies have voiced their serious doubts over the financial efficacy of plans to raise tuition fees at English universities to £9000. One independent think tank suggested that, should the government’s predicted graduate earning rates differ by as little as 2% from actual earnings, the entire scheme would end up losing the government money in the long run; an enormous blow to universities, schools, students and families who have been thrown into turmoil by the plans.
Another inescapable parallel lies in the accusations of hasty government policy being pushed quickly into existence without proper evidential basis for the proposals. Concerns about Michael Gove’s education policies reached such a height earlier this year that the National Union of Teachers even took the extreme step of declaring a vote of no confidence in the Education Secretary for this precise reason.
Then there are the similarities to the much decried slashing of the Education Maintenance Allowance, a scheme that provided a small financial incentive for students from lower income backgrounds to help them continue to sixth form education. In that case, the government suggested that a large percentage of students were claiming the allowance when they did not really need it to continue studying, but their theory fell far short of justifying the drastic decision to cut the whole scheme and replace it with a paltry fund more than five times smaller.
Now with student immigration a similar situation is emerging, where ministers claim that their culling of student visas is not to prevent foreign students from attending UK universities, but to crack down on those posing as students and using student visas to enter the country when they actually plan to work, or bring dependents who will work here illegally. Whilst this problem may well exist, it seems that the government is once again pointing to a problem that may affect a small percentage of student numbers and trying to use it as justification to slash an enormous percentage of student visas.
Furthermore, it seems that once again, as with the tuition fees plans, ministers are focussing exclusively on financial costs to the complete detriment of any cultural, social and educational concerns. The enormous hike in tuition fees is likely to have a devastating impact on social mobility, arts and culture, with many non-vocational arts courses predicted to close under the scheme. Similarly a drastic cut in student visas will hugely damage the cultural diversity of this country’s university programs. Certainly university is a place to work hard academically and earn a good degree, but for a vast majority of young people in this country it is also where they develop the social skills, beliefs and cultural perceptions that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. At no time during these rash plans to axe student visas have ministers taken into account the enormous importance of giving young people in this country the opportunity to learn, grow-up and develop alongside other students from as wide and diverse a cultural and geographical background as possible. Once again, as with so many of their education policies, a short-term financial gain will eventually be offset by a terrible cultural and social price.