'No cap on international students coming to the UK'
The president of Universities UK has spoken out against the myth that it has become more difficult for international students to study in Britain.
The UK remains a global leader in higher education. It continues to be one of the most attractive study destinations in the world," said Professor Eric Thomas, president of Universities UK, the organisation that represents all of the UK universities.
There are currently 298,110 non-EU students studying at UK universities. With 67,325 students, the Chinese are the biggest group of international students, followed by students from India (39,090), Nigeria (17,585), the US (15,555) and Malaysia (13,900).
"In London alone, 25 per cent of the student population are international students, and we expect the number of overall enrollments to rise this year," said Thomas.
Although changes to the visa system last year have led many foreign students to believe that it is harder to study in the UK, Thomas says this is not the case.
"I want to make this very clear: there is no cap on international students coming to the UK. Yes there have been a number of changes to the visa system, but there is nothing to prevent legitimate students from obtaining a visa if they meet the UK Border Agency's requirements," he said.
"International students contribute hugely to the academic and cultural richness of UK universities -- not to mention their indirect contributions, creating thousands of jobs and generating important goodwill for the UK."
Dr Jo Beall, director of education and society at the British Council, added that they are working closely to try and dispel the negative perceptions from international students. "The idea of how welcoming we are is quite negative but, in reality, there is a big gap between the perceptions and the reality," she said. "We're working really hard so that the people who do want to study in the UK are helped to do so and feel welcome."
From the business perspective, London firms are keen to bring more international students to the capital, said John Dickie, director of strategy and policy at London First, a business group.
"London is open to business, open to visitors, and open to students," said Dickie. "Businesses care about the openness of London and its universities. It's a big market for Britain and is one of our biggest exports."
Under current rules, international graduates are allowed to stay and work in the UK after their studies if they secure a qualified work sponsor. International graduates have a four-month grace period after graduation to find work. "Post-study work is definitely still an option for international students once they graduate," said Thomas.
"It's important that we support the universities. A global city relies on the kind of links forged by international students," added Dickie.