Let’s rediscover the welcome mat for overseas students

I’m currently on my sixth visit to India, partly to do some teaching as Birmingham City University seeks to strengthen the links it has established with partner institutions in Bangalore and Chennai and partly to recruit students to come to Birmingham to study.  
I have no problem with the ‘sales pitch’. It’s a good university with some very strong courses – not least in my own bit, Birmingham School of Media (you don’t have to take my word for that there are various independent measures that show it to be the case).
What I have been wondering, however, is why a student from India or any similar country should choose to study in the UK? I know all the arguments about the quality of the education they get at British universities and I know there’s still a lingering sense of attachment for Indians, at least, in opting for a UK qualification. There are, though, many factors that militate against choosing ‘us’ rather than Canada, say, or Australia.
There is no doubt that our Government was right to root out bogus colleges that were offering back door entry to the country, making offers for courses that barely existed on ‘campuses’ that were little more than a few rooms above a shop. But this much tougher approach to student visa applications has made life harder for thousands of genuine students applying for proper courses at genuine universities and that can’t be right.
Surely the bogus college racket was a form of fraud, in which case it – and those behind it – could and should properly have been dealt with by a concerted use of the criminal law. Genuine students with offers of places at recognised institutions need help and support through the application process and not to be given a sense that they are unwelcome.
While we are on the subject of a more humane and common sense approach to this, isn’t it time to rethink the restrictions on students being prevented from staying in the UK to work for a finite period – a year or two – after the successful completion of their studies. Students pay large sums to come to the UK to study; sums that are an important contribution to our economy. Many of them, and their families, take out loans to meet the cost of the course and/or the cost of living in the UK. Giving them some opportunity to earn and so to begin paying off this debt is important. Many other countries recognise this and are as a result attracting more students.
Meanwhile, the removal in Britain of these post study work arrangements is leading to a drop in the number of students who choose the UK – but more importantly it’s sending a message about our country that we may learn to regret. The students of today are the leaders of business, education and government of the future.  When they make decisions in years to come about partnerships, investment plans and collaboration are they likely to look kindly on the country that had mislaid the welcome mat when they were making choices about studying overseas?
There is no doubt that our Government was right to root out bogus colleges that were offering back door entry to the country, making offers for courses that barely existed on ‘campuses’ that were little more than a few rooms above a shop. But this much tougher approach to student visa applications has made life harder for thousands of genuine students applying for proper courses at genuine universities and that can’t be right.
Surely the bogus college racket was a form of fraud, in which case it – and those behind it – could and should properly have been dealt with by a concerted use of the criminal law. Genuine students with offers of places at recognised institutions need help and support through the application process and not to be given a sense that they are unwelcome.
While we are on the subject of a more humane and common sense approach to this, isn’t it time to rethink the restrictions on students being prevented from staying in the UK to work for a finite period – a year or two – after the successful completion of their studies. Students pay large sums to come to the UK to study; sums that are an important contribution to our economy. Many of them, and their families, take out loans to meet the cost of the course and/or the cost of living in the UK. Giving them some opportunity to earn and so to begin paying off this debt is important. Many other countries recognise this and are as a result attracting more students.
Meanwhile, the removal in Britain of these post study work arrangements is leading to a drop in the number of students who choose the UK – but more importantly it’s sending a message about our country that we may learn to regret. The students of today are the leaders of business, education and government of the future.  When they make decisions in years to come about partnerships, investment plans and collaboration are they likely to look kindly on the country that had mislaid the welcome mat when they were making choices about studying overseas?