Universities in the United Kingdom could go bankrupt if the government limited the number of foreign students in a bid to bring down net migration, an adviser on immigration policy warned.
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s potential plan to clamp down on Nigerians and other foreign nationals taking “low-quality” degrees could “send many universities over the edge”, particularly in poorer regions, the chair of the government’s Migration Advisory Committee said.
The Guardian reported Friday that Prof Brian Bell told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, “Most universities for most courses lose money on teaching British students and offset that loss by charging more for international students. If you close down the international route I’m not sure how the university continues to survive.”
Bell maintained that while other elite varsities were allowed to take in foreign students, other regions could suffer if they were restricted.
He said London, Cambridge and Oxford would do well if overseas students were only allowed places at “elite” universities, asking, “But what about Newcastle, what about the North-East, the North-West, Scotland?”
“If you’re interested in the levelling-up agenda, you might want to worry about harming universities around Britain,” the King’s College economics professor added. He pointed out that it was not just an immigration policy but also an education policy, as it could lead to a “massive increase” in British students’ fees to make up for the loss of foreign students’ payments.
The prime minister was considering a crackdown on international students bringing defendants and restricting admissions to top universities, The Times reported on Thursday after net migration to the UK climbed to a record 504,000.
Sunak’s official spokesperson said he was “fully committed” to bringing overall immigration levels down and blamed “unprecedented and unique circumstances” for the record high.
The official noted, “We’re considering all options to make sure the immigration system is delivering, and that does include looking at the issue of student dependants and low-quality degrees.”
This would be in line with proposals being explored by the home secretary, Suella Braverman, who has previously complained about foreign students “bringing in family members who can piggyback on to their student visa” and “propping up, frankly, substandard courses in inadequate institutions”.
Bell said restricting the number of family members students could bring to the UK was “certainly worth looking into.”
Quite a number of Nigerians have left home country for UK to seek tertiary education, with the number surging in 2022.