No news is good news?!
Home Office Consultation – and other issues
I was expecting this month to be talking about the Consultation announced by Home Secretary Amber Rudd in her speech to the Conservative Party conference in October which we were told would be published before Christmas, Nothing, however, has appeared so far and comments from officials last month suggested that we may now not see it before February - and I am just wondering whether it is at all possible that any of these plans to (restrict student migration still further) might be being re-considered?
We can always hope but for now I suppose it is at least possible that ‘no news is good news’! There are many influential voices supporting the international student cause and I was interested to see this article by Lord Hannay suggesting that this was also an aspect which ought to be included in the Higher Education and Research Bill – currently going through the House of Lords.
On other issues, things have been relatively quiet of late although slightly modified versions of the Tier 4 Dependants guidance and the Visitor guidance have just been published - with the good news in the latter that after over a year of pressure from us (using your feedback) and others, a concession has now been included to enable occasional study on a long-term visit visa. Details here.
We are told that more guidance changes are of course planned for April and as you may have seen on the Forum we were recently asked for our views on a specific definition of a working week, in the context of part-time work, and many thanks to those of you (at least 30 I am told) who immediately came back with very helpful comments which we have fed in. (Incidentally, feedback via the Forum for these sorts of things is really useful to us and if you are not too sure how to join the conversation, just fill in the form to register for the website to get access).
In the meantime we are now collating material for a Special Briefing on last November’s changes (what was announced but also what additionally we have been able to clarify) which will be with you as soon as possible.
Home Affairs Committee Inquiry into Immigration
We may not yet have the Home Office Consultation but the Home Affairs Committee (HAC) have announced a wide-ranging inquiry into The future of Immigration to which we will be submitting some evidence. As you can see from the HAC’s note this is not specifically about international students and will be very general (and probably contentious in the current environment) and our submission is therefore likely to be quite brief but we – and I hope some of you - will take the opportunity to record/remind them of some obvious key points.
‘Scotland’s universities welcome the world’
Whilst some of these big issues are being debated however we were delighted to see that Scotland’s universities are determined to put out a message to the world that international students and staff continue to be warmly welcomed. Universities Scotland with the support of the Scottish Government, the Scottish Funding Council, Scottish Enterprise, Visit Scotland and British Council Scotland – are staging a major event to which I have been invited, in Edinburgh on the 24th January ‘To celebrate the international diversity of Scotland's higher education community and to welcome the world to Scotland’.
As the invitation says:
This event, on the eve of Burns Night, will celebrate what it means to be part of Scottish life in 2017. It will celebrate the richness, diversity and strength of Scottish culture, society and Scotland’s higher education sector because Scotland welcomes so many people and cultures from over 180 countries around the world. 50,000 European and international students (sic!) study in our 19 higher education institutions and over 7,500 staff have chosen to make their career in Scotland’s universities and their home in Scotland. We want to celebrate that and the contribution they make.
It sounds like a great initiative, timely, well worth supporting and hopefully one of many which communities might arrange across the UK throughout this year.
Priorities and concerns about Brexit
One of the reasons why we all need to do more to celebrate international diversity is, of course, because of major concerns about Brexit for the continued attraction of the UK and mobility of students and you may have seen that last month we issued what we called a Statement of Principles covering numbers of key issues.
We have distributed it to all our sector partners, to British Council, relevant government departments and numbers of contacts in Parliament and if you have any dealings with local MPs or other influential contacts, you might find it helpful to pass them a copy or use it as a briefing note.
I see that a House of Lords EU Committee has also/already picked up on our 7th point (about students and permanent residence and CSI/EHIC cards) and I had the Guardian on the phone at the end of last week researching this angle which they saw as a complete injustice. We’d therefore expect much more discussion on it in the future (although do note also that our current advice for students, although we don’t think it is fair, is that if CSI or an EHIC card is not produced in a relevant application, it will currently be refused).
What is an ‘international student’?
Talking of EU students though (and it does make a change from talking about Tier 4!) I am rather glad that we are focussing on their needs and concerns as there appears to be an increasing tendency for people (institutions, press and the public) only to talk about (or define or count) ‘international students’ when they are talking about those from outside the EU. Just because they happen to need visas or because they may pay different fees.
Our UKCISA view (and I think for many of you as well) is and has always been that all students studying outside their normal countries of residence are international students and so that obviously includes all EU students as they often need as much special consideration and support as those from outside the EU. So whatever happens with this post-referendum business, perhaps we might get back to seeing and calling and welcoming all international students, non-EU and EU, as ‘International Students’ because that is (geographically, socially, motivationally and culturally) what they are.
On a more practical/local level several (other) items are currently pre-occupying us in Islington.
• The training programme is currently in full swing and the deadline fast approaching for submissions for Annual Conference at the end of June – so please do put in any final proposals by 16 January.
• You will be receiving by the end of the month quite a substantial publication with reports on the four student experience research projects which we funded last year (by Brighton, York, Bournemouth and Plymouth) - and when you do we’d be grateful if you would let relevant colleagues see them and tell them that copies will also be available online and in separate PDFs. And then, very soon, we will also be getting initial reports on the next batch of 18 pilot and research projects which we are funding this year.
• The project to move from a printed UKCISA Manual to online resources is nearing completion with a (planned) launch date by 1 March and numbers of you have kindly agreed to act as physical and virtual focus groups for us this week and next as we do final testing.
• Finally, I am planning to visit a range of member institutions (and sector bodies) over the next couple of months to hear current views and concerns about both practice and policy and to help to inform our lobbying (Edinburgh, Oxford, UAL confirmed; Kings and Bournemouth proposed) and just this week a very interesting meeting with Judy Clements and colleagues at the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (which as you will know do so much vital work in the area of student complaints). And if anyone else would like to propose that I might visit you sometime in the spring, please do get in touch!