Numbers Suggest Strain On UK-India Higher Ed Relationship

A vice-chancellor has claimed that the UK’s relationship with India could be heading downhill after Theresa May’s policies as home secretary led to the first-ever decline in overseas student numbers.

Home Office rhetoric on immigration was having “a horrible, negative effect” abroad, ruining institutions’ efforts to recruit international students according to Edward Acton of The University of East Anglia.

“Mrs May’s policy of treating university students as immigrants to be discouraged by endless pinpricks, insults, red tape and negative vibes from the Home Office has stopped the growth in UK recruitment [of overseas students] dead in its tracks,” said the vice-chancellor, who led Universities UK’s lobbying for international students to be removed from government immigration targets.

The release of figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, which revealed that the number of non-European Union students at UK universities fell by 1% last year, led Acton’s speech. The figures showed the first such decline since records began in 1994-95.

Additionally, figures showed a 25% drop in the number of Indian first-year students starting courses in 2012-13. By going from 23,985 to 12,280, the number of Indian entrants has halved in just two years.

“India is going to be by far the biggest market, along with China, as the century progresses, and Britain has a natural affinity [with India],” Professor Acton said. “Mrs May has just butchered it.”

There was “not a hope” that the UK could maintain its market share of higher education without a change of home secretary, he concluded.

The Hesa statistics were “already out of date” and the government’s own statistics showed a 7% rise in the number of student visa applications in 2013, according to a Home Office spokesman.

 Mark Harper, the immigration minister, said: “UK universities are continuing to attract the brightest and best students from around the globe, and there is no limit on those allowed to study here.”

Acton refused to blame the drop in overseas student numbers for the closure of UEA’s London campus, which will cease offering courses in September, despite his anger with Home Office policy. As Chris Parr of Times Higher Education reports, Professor Acton said that the general fall in international student numbers was unrelated to the decision to close.

“Our own recruitment has been healthy…but the momentum of the campus in Norwich…makes us really keen to focus our energies here,” Professor Acton said.

Professor Acton stated that finances had played no role in its closure as between January 2010 and July 2013, though UEA’s financial accounts show that the London campus made losses of £7 million.

“The financial fruits would have lain ahead,” he said. With UEA focusing on its Norwich activities, London had become “a diversion of academic and administrative energy”, he added.