Fears assuaged over tighter immigration

25th March 2011 at 00:00
Government's partial backtrack on new rules eases pressure on college coffers

Concerns that stringent new immigration laws would deter foreign students from coming to Scotland have been partly allayed.

Scottish universities and colleges had outlined grave concerns, shared south of the border, before Home Secretary Theresa May revealed that the Government's plans had been scaled back.

Universities Scotland had expressed fears about the loss of overseas students from tighter visa rules, at a time when income from their fees is crucial, but the body now feels its views have been taken into account.

Many of the restrictions are targeted at students in private colleges in the UK, rather than universities, with the Government intent on tackling bogus institutions.

Universities Scotland director Alastair Sim said the proposals announced on Tuesday did not go as far as feared: "It is important that international students know they are still very welcome in Scotland."

Scotland's Colleges had also expressed concerns that the new laws, part of wider restrictions on immigration, would damage international recruitment.

Anniesland College principal Linda McTavish feared moves to demand near- fluent English of overseas students could "put people off" coming to Scotland, but the Government has set the expected level of English at a more modest level.

Anniesland College has 130 overseas students and this week won a British Council award for work with colleges in the Palestinian territories. The UK Borders Agency's proposed immigration laws came at a time when colleges were increasingly "outward-looking" and, in challenging economic times, trying to attract more students from abroad, Mrs McTavish said.

The Scottish Council of Independent Schools, meanwhile, is anxious that pupils should not be subject to stricter entrance and assessment criteria when they turn 18.

SCIS, which is content that independent schools are deemed very low risk by UKBA, believes pupils should be legally considered children until aged 20, or that stricter requirements should be waived entirely for pupils to allow them to complete their education.

It stresses, however, that many Scottish independent schools - which educate 1,500 international pupils out of 32,000 in total - have a "student" as well as a "child" licence, which should prevent interruptions to education at the age of 18.

Tightening rules to stop false applications would be "in the best interests of legitimate students," said Home Secretary Mrs May.

There will be tighter regulations on allowing families of students to join them in the UK, and less flexibility in the time students can spend in the country after courses have finished.

There will be limits on hours of paid work which overseas students can take on, in response to concerns that visas were being misused by economic migrants.

henry.hepburn@tes.co.uk

STUDENT'S SHINING EXAMPLE

Nur Aizaan Anwar, 25, has been named Scotland International Student of the Year in the British Council's Shine! competition. She will compete for the UK title in London next month.

The final-year Aberdeen University medical student, from Malaysia, has given academic papers in the UK and Canada, won a poetry award, and played the fiddle to fundraise for a hospice.

The awards focus on contributions made by international students to campus life.

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