The government has rejected claims it wants to slash the number of overseas students, a move architects and academics fear could damage architecture schools and university development programmes
According to a report in The Guardian, the Home Office wants to cut the number of international students from 300,000 to 170,000 under tougher new visa rules. The rumours, based on senior higher education sources, come just two months after home secretary Amber Rudd announced at the Conservative party conference in October that she wanted to clamp down on overseas students taking ‘lower quality’ universities and courses.
However, the Home Office has told the AJ the figures quoted by the The Guardian, are untrue. A spokesman for the Home Office added: ‘We want to strengthen the system to support the best universities – and those that stick to the rules – to attract the best talent. The British people have sent a clear message that they want more control of immigration and we are committed to getting net migration down to sustainable levels in the tens of thousands.’
Any major reduction in overseas students would be fiercely opposed by architects and academics. Allan Atlee, head of school at Canterbury School of Architecture, said any significant drop in numbers could ‘fundamentally destabilise’ a ‘not inconsiderable proportion of universities’ if implemented.
He told the AJ: ‘The current and former Home Secretary’s desire to pro-actively reduce the numbers of non-EU international students, coupled with Brexit, is chilling. The international diversity of the staff and student community in UK architectural education is one of its greatest strengths. Eroding this is wrongheaded, and nothing more than the product of political expediency and the PM’s vanity around her ill-conceived target.
He added: ‘It will damage all schools of architecture, threatening individual departments’ ability to invest and innovate when this is necessary and urgent.’
Alan Dunlop, visiting professor and honorary chair in contemporary architectural practice at the University of Liverpool, said any major reduction could also threaten universities’ building projects.
He said: ‘My own students, those from outwith the European Union and particularly those from Asia, already have to go though a tortuous process to obtain a visa to enter the UK to study. To propose to make it even harder is indeed “insane” [as one anonymous school head told The Guardian].’
Top universities have had their credit ratings downgraded as a consequence of Brexit
He added: ‘A number of top universities throughout the UK have had their credit ratings downgraded as a consequence of Brexit, which has threatened to increase borrowing costs and therefore impact on future campus expansion plans. So, for many, attracting students from overseas remains the only possible option to improve funding to support development proposals.’
Carl Meddings, subject leader for architecture at the University of Huddersfield, said the potential for damage went beyond the loss of cash. He said: ‘A drop in international student numbers would significantly affect architecture courses, as RIBA validation is seen as a gold standard around the world.
‘The impact in terms of viability of courses will be greater for some courses than others, perhaps particularly the London schools, which may attract the greatest number of applicants from overseas. But the loss to courses is more than just financial. At Huddersfield we value diversity.
‘The richness of the dialogue around design studio projects and the value to the shared journey of students and tutors with very different cultural backgrounds and life experiences is immeasurable. The pedagogic value shouldn’t be underestimated.’
Spokesperson for Higher Education Funding Council for England
‘As an intelligent regulator, HEFCE is always modelling different scenarios that might impact the financial sustainability of the higher education sector. As we have shown in our most recent (and previous) financial health reports, any changes to income and/or expenditure levels will have an impact on the financial performance of higher education institutions. One such area is the forecast growth in international (non-EU) students.
’The sector is projecting fee income from non-EU students to rise from £3.7 billion in 2015-16 to £4.8 billion in 2018-19 (equivalent to 14.9 per cent of total income). If this growth did not materialise, and the sector took no mitigating action, the sector would see its projected average 3.4 per cent surplus reduce to 0.2 per cent.’
Part I student Ecaterina Stefanescu’s artist colony and art gallery in Ho Chi Minh City [University of Huddersfield - show 2014]