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Obama could draw students away from UK
Overseas students attracted by new liberal administration as UK visa rules are tightened
Sunday, 23 November, 2008 | 16:51
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The election of Barack Obama as US president could threaten British universities' intake of foreign students, education experts claim.

Leading analysts have said that as the negative perceptions of America diminish and US visa restrictions are relaxed, the US will see an increase in foreign students at the expense of applications to the UK.

"I'm sure that perceptions will change and there will be a much better view of America in other countries," said Dr Bahram Bekhradnia, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, a UK-based think-tank.

"That will have an effect on its ability to recruit, and that will have a knock-on effect on our ability to recruit."

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 and the war in Iraq, negative perceptions of the US and strict visa laws deterred foreign students from studying there.

Dominic Scott, chief executive of the UK Council for International Student Affairs said: "The UK has increased its recruitment quite successfully over the last four or five years, because of increased security measures that made the US less attractive and far less welcoming.

"UK institutions put more investment into the quality of the international student experience and visa charges were kept relatively low and entry procedures simple."

Perception is not the only guide for international students considering where to study, however. Dana Candek, an Italian second-year translation student at Heriot-Watt University, told The Journal that cost remains an important factor in chosing study in the UK over the US.

“I came to the UK because I wanted to learn more English, and it’s cheaper than the US for EU students who might not get a scholarship there," she said.

"What’s also important is that it’s closer to home.”

Overseas students are considered a lucrative source of income for UK universities, with some charging international applicants up to £10,000 per year.

In addition to changing perceptions, the UK has tightened its immigration laws and has made it tougher for overseas students to acquire visas.

Mr Obama's election also comes as the government unveils plans to implement closer surveillance of international students.

Last year overseas students in the US increased by seven per cent from the year before, to 623,805.

Ten per cent of all US undergraduates are foreign students.

Figures show that in 2006/7 there were over 350,000 non UK students studying in Britain, with 237,000 from outwith the EU.

The UK admits around 45,000 foreign students each year to British universities.

Universities UK chief executive, Diana Warwick has warned that future policy needs to be informed by factors of perception, if not radically altered, if universities in the UK are to compete.

“It is naive to suppose that UK universities can operate effectively, take the right strategic decisions and compete with emerging global giants whilst funded at approximately one third of US levels," Ms Warwick said.

By the end of this year the government aims to have all current international students' biometric details on file, in advance of being issued with identity cards.

US immigration authorities have stepped up their effort to recruit overseas students in recent months by offering all science, engineering and maths students, the option to stay for 29 months after their degree is complete.

At the University of Edinburgh, overseas students make up around 24 per cent of the student body; they account for 17 per cent at Napier, 12 per cent at QMU, and at Heriot-Watt one third of on-campus students come from outside the UK.

Foreign students inject £2.5 billion into UK universities, and around £10 billion into the UK economy each year.

Pat Killingley, The British Council’s higher education officer believes universities in the UK will have to increase their standards of service.

"British universities, supported by higher education agencies and government departments, must respond with a smarter marketing effort," Mr Killingley said.

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