International student visas
23 March 2011
Home Secretary Theresa May has made an announcement of great importance to the University of Sheffield and to UK higher education. After months of worrying rumours about draconian cuts to international student numbers as part of a cap on migration, the Government finally set out its position.
We were pleased to see that yesterday´s announcement reflected in a positive way the legitimate and valuable role played by international students in universities, and the crucial importance of the brightest and best students from all around the world to the UK´s position as global leaders in higher education. Concerns remain about matters such as the nature of opportunities for post study work and the impact on dependents, but the University will examine the details of the new approach to understand in greater detail the likely impact on our students.
Avoiding the worst excesses of the cuts proposed by some to international student visas was no doubt in part thanks to the tireless lobbying efforts of our own University and Union of Students, Sheffield Hallam University and indeed all of our local MPs. We know that the many examples we provided to MPs about the value of international students were often quoted in parliamentary debate and in Cabinet. This concerted effort was reinforced by a united effort by all who care about higher education, including UUK, the Russell Group and educational unions.
The announcement in the House of Commons came at the end of a week where the world has watched in dismay scenes of devastation in both Japan and Libya. As a global university, we are not detached from events around the globe. In both these cases, we have University of Sheffield students and staff from these countries who are concerned for the well being of their families, their friends and their nations. We have students in Japan (although none now in the area directly affected by the tsunami) and members of staff who are on hand seeking to offer practical support. We have colleagues in partner institutions and educational links with those who are our academic peers.
Beyond offering practical and emotional support, such events remind us again that we are an international university and a community drawn from all over the world. Developing this global identity is indeed a core element of the Mission, Vision and Identity which we have developed together.
With recent changes in the public funding of universities and UK and EU undergraduate tuition fees, we have focused, through Project 2012, on what it is that we offer our students. I believe that we also need to build a similar consensus about what it truly means to be an international university – what are our aims, our ambitions, our values, our priorities, our limits?
These are questions which we will revisit together in the coming weeks and months, but for now I would like to move beyond the economic and business case for international students – who do indeed make up a substantial proportion of the University´s income – to the value of our international staff, students and partners to what we do and who we are. Our historical roots may be in Sheffield, but our identity is global and the impact of what we do reaches out to benefit all the places our staff and students also call home. It is this truly international perspective which makes our University a place of rich cultural and educational exchange, and a beacon of collaboration and engagement in an all-too-often divided world.
Professor Keith Burnett