UK universities fear financial loss with new immigration rules

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According to Professor Rick Trainor, president of Universities UK, the United Kingdom's new immigration system could make the country less attractive to foreign students, causing UK educational institutions to lose tens of millions of pounds. He also said that the new, more cumbersome visa rules would damage the UK's reputation as a leader in world education.

"Our concerns are focused on the significant new costs and administrative burdens these proposals will place on universities," Trainor said in an interview with the Observer.

The new system will require universities to choose students sooner, sponsor them, and have them register with the Home Office. Officials from Universities UK are hoping to persuade the Home Office to change the rules before they go into effect next year.

"We believe there is a very real danger that the Home Office agenda will undermine the international and trade agenda of the rest of government, which seeks to increase the number of international students in the UK," Trainor said.

Danny Sriskandarajah, with the Institute for Public Policy Research, agrees with Trainor.

"What they are concerned about are little measures deep inside the points system that have the risk of being cumbersome," he said.

The Home Office said that while the majority of students are genuine and bring substantial economic benefit to the UK, they have to ensure that this continues to be the case.

"Migration has to support Britain's national interests," said a Home Office spokesperson. "Our new, Australian-style points-based system will be simpler, clearer and easier to enforce. Crucially, it will give us the best way of letting in only those people who have something to offer Britain."

The new points based system, expected to begin partial implementation in March 2008, will be broken up into four tiers which will replace an estimated 80 different "immigration routes" into the UK, according to Home Secretary Jacqui Smith.

Highly skilled migrants would occupy the first tier. Skilled workers with a job offer would come under the second tier, while the third tier for unskilled workers was recently suspended. Students would come under the fourth tier and the fifth tier is for temporary workers such as backpackers coming under Working Holiday agreements with other countries.