International students wishing to apply to universities in the UK will have to undergo a rigorous interview system, the Home Office has revealed.
The plan was initially announced last December by Home Secretary Theresa May, a member of the Coalition government. She stated that the UK Border Agency’s interview scheme was to be “extended radically” in a move to gain further control over foreign students’ visa applications, to curb immigration.
The scheme, which has been heavily criticised by University of East Anglia Vice-Chancellor Edward Acton, has raised fears that it will discourage applications from international students to the UK.
A spokesperson for the University of Oxford expressed her concern, stating, “Our priority as a leading global university is recruiting the very best students, wherever they are in the world, and we have lobbied the government not to enact policies that will be detrimental to world-class universities.”
The same spokesperson also told Cherwell, “Oxford already has in place a system to ensure the English language skills, financial resources and intentions to pursue serious study all meet the University’s high standards, and should reassure potential applicants that we don’t anticipate the expansion of student visa interviews to negatively impact students accepted for study here.”
The interviews, which will be carried out by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) are expected to examine an applicant’s educational background and place of study, in order to assert the validity of their status as a student. Those who fail to turn up for the interview without reasonable excuse risk being rejected entry to the UK by the UKBA.
Aditya Sharad, an Indian student at Magdalen, expressed his concern to Cherwell, saying, “If the system isn’t planned properly then it would make visa processing times much longer and create added uncertainty in an already complicated application process. The UKBA has the right to interview internationals but making interviews compulsory for every applicant could put off qualified overseas students from applying, even if they’re considering top tier universities, by making the application process more drawn out.”
Details for the plan are yet to be unveiled in full, although it is expected that the number of interviews for potential overseas applicants is set to rise from 2,300 to over 100,000.
Last year, the UKBA turned down 17% of those interviewed on the grounds that their level of English was insufficient, but warned that up to 32% could have potentially been rejected owing to questionable credibility regarding their true status as students.
In 2011, 261,400 overseas students were granted entry clearance to come and study in the UK, rising from only 191,600 in 2005. David Cameron’s government has vowed to reduce the UK’s net migration from its current 250,000 to 100,000 before the next election. Study is the most common reason given by migrants coming into the UK, and therefore student migrants are the most significant in the annual net migration figures.
Jo Aldhouse, the Visa and Immigration Adviser for the University of Oxford Student Information and Advisory Service, told Cherwell, “The reintroduction of interviews will potentially slow the visa application process, possibly particularly affecting countries where it is already lengthy. It is likely also to reintroduce an element of subjectivity, which could be problematic particularly as appeal rights were removed with the introduction of the Points Based System for students.
“We would hope that this won’t lead to applicants being put off but it’s a pity if the visa process will be made more difficult for students who have obviously already proved themselves by getting through Oxford’s admissions procedure.”
The move is part of stricter government regulation over student visas: earlier this year saw London Metropolitan University banned from accepting overseas candidates, putting 2,000 students at risk of losing their university places.