NPC/04/11/A: Response to the Home Office Consultation on the Review of Charges for Immigration Applications

by Jim Ewing

Executive Summary

The National Postgraduate Committee of the United Kingdom welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Home Office's consultation on the Review of charges for immigration application.

As a registered charity (SC033368), we are constrained to respondm only to those parts of the Review which relate directly to our remit. We therefore respond in detail to Ch. 11 only.

We believe that the proposed increases, which would make application for temporary residence more expensive than taking out British nationality, to be fundamentally unfair and potentially damaging to the Governments policy of encouraging the number of overseas students and skilled migrants to the UK, and also to the state of UK higher education in general and postgraduate education in particular. We reject the thesis that applications should totally finance the service, including meeting the cost of the appeals service in the initial application fee. We believe that, as the immigration system exists in part to keep out bogus applicants because it is the will of the government and the public, the system should be funded in the main through general taxation. We believe that any fees charged should be nominal, as in the countries whose charges the Report lists, and that students should in any case be exempt from this fee.

We reiterate that our status as a charity prevents us from commenting on matters not directly covered by our remit; however we also feel that the introduction of charges for children would be a further burden on applicants with families. It is hard enough for overseas students to bring their families with them; this extra cost would exacerbate the breaking up of family life and prove an extra disincentive to applicants.

Preamble

The National Postgraduate Committee (NPC) is a charity with the aim to advance, in the public interest, postgraduate education in the UK. We organize meetings and conferences, publish best practice guidelines and seek to influence public policy on all aspects of postgraduate education. Our membership consists of affiliated student representative bodies from across the UK; we have one full time officer, the General Secretary, and fourteen voluntary officers. We work closely with our recognized bodies the National Union of Students (NUS), the Mature Students' Union (MSU), the Council for International Students (CIS) and the Coalition for Higher Education Students in Scotland (CHESS), with lecturers' unions and with other relevant bodies.

Response

Q1. Are these the right principles for the Government to be considering when reviewing charges for immigration applications (chapter 7 refers)?

In part. We agree that the fee regime should not be based on economic benefit which an individual may be expected to bring to the UK, that customer service should be straightforward and run on a non for profit basis (with any monies raised going towards the cost of the service), that the regime should not be a burden for small businesses, that it should not deter potential applicants and that any fees charged should be internationally competitive. However, the definition of fairness (7.2a) misses the point of what most people will understand by the use of the word in reference to the level of fees charged i.e. that everyone should be charged a fair fee, any hypothetical differentiation being based on ability to pay. Discussion in terms of non-discrimination in this context strikes us as disingenuous: when were homosexuals ever expected to pay more than anyone else for the same public service?

Q2. Are there other factors which need to be taken into account?

Yes (See Q 10)

Q3. How significant do you believe the cost of making an application is for students when deciding where to study? Please tick one of the boxes below.

Negligible _ _ _ * _ Very significant.

We believe the figures speak for themselves. According to your own research [see p.42], UK fees are already, on the whole, far higher than those of our main competitors in the student market. It may be overshadowed by other considerations but, given the difference between UK fees and those of other countries, it is of itself a very significant factor and could, in some cases, be the deciding one against students coming here.

Q4. Do you consider that our assessment of costs to overseas students is realistic?

Very realistic _ _ _ * _ Unrealistic

It may be realistic to say that the proposed maximum increase represents only 0.5% of a three-year budget, but this is the law of averages. The total budget also includes tuition fees, which are fixed costs. In many cases, visa charges have to be paid out of disposable income, which varies considerably; consequently, the proposed increases represent a much greater increase in living costs than your figure of 0.5%.

It also fails to take into account the impression created by an increase of 50% in fees charged. If applicants are told that the increases are to cover costs, they will attribute the rise to inflation and presume that the overall cost of living in the UK is rising by that much, way beyond the means of most applicants.

Q5. Do you consider that the UK's fee regime is favourable when compared with other countries' fees considering the other benefits available?

No.

Again, we believe the figures speak for themselves (see Q3).

Q6. Are the proposed increases in fees proportionate to the quality of service delivered to students, including new activities to tackle abuses and strengthen controls?

No.

We find the argument that it is reasonable to require applicants to contribute to the costs of delivering an appeals function and enforcement activity to be spurious, reminiscent of factory owners who would dock their workers' wages "in case of breakages". If people are to be charged for services which they may never require, then the cost should be spread among all those who benefit from not having bogus students enter the UK. Furthermore, such a course of action would only increase the number of appeals, as the disappointed would determine to have their money's worth.

Q7. Are the proposes increases in fees proportionate to the benefits students will enjoy?

No

We reject the premise of the question, that tackling abuses and strengthening controls are part of the quality of service delivered to students. These activities are a necessary duty of good government, delivered to the British public. It is they who want to keep bogus applicants out of this country and it is their duty, through general taxation, to meet the costs; it is not that of bona fide applicants. If we want to keep bogus students out of the country, it is up to us to provide the bureaucracy.

Q8. Should overseas students who rely on grants or charitable trusts to fund their studies/living costs be exempt from the fee?

Yes

We believe that all overseas students should be exempt from this fee, the same as all students are exempt from Council Tax.

If so, should the general taxpayer be required to subsidise these costs?

Yes (see Q6-7).

Q9. Is it appropriate for overseas nationals wishing to study in the UK to pay an element of the appeals and enforcement costs as part of their immigration application? Please tick one of the boxes below.

No

See Q7.

Q10. Do you have any other comments or suggestions on the proposals?

Yes.

The proposals take no account of students who have to make multi-applications for visas. These fall into two groups: those proceeding from one level of study to another and those whose research overruns the length of the period covered by their visa.

As a postgraduate charity, NPC is particularly concerned about students in these categories. It is not always possible for overseas students to say for certain how long their studies will require them to reside in the UK. Some PhD courses require applicants to take a masters course as a preparation for research (e.g. an M.Res.) as a condition of acceptance; consequently, the applicant can only state at the time of application that they intend to stay for the duration of the masters course (usually one, or maybe two, years). If they pass and are accepted for the three-year PhD course (which is their intention in applying to study here in the first place), they then have to apply over again, paying another fee, when they fully intended to stay that long in the first place. At a time when the Arts and Humanities Research Board for one is giving serious thought to using its resources to fund students on a 1+ 3 (or, it has been suggested, 1 + 3.5) model, assuming transition from masters to PhD level, it is unfair to work on the premise that there is insufficient reason to presume that serious applicants who wish to come here to do top-level research are capable of passing a masters course.

Even more unfair is the case of students at the end of the period covered by their visa who have to stay on in this country perhaps only a little longer, either to submit their thesis or even only to experience the satisfaction of their graduation ceremony. It is notoriously difficult to determine exactly how long a PhD will take overall. External examiners, whose will is final, may impose apparently unreasonable but unavoidable conditions, to be completed within a stated period of time which may well overrun the time covered by the student's visa.

In view of the above, we suggest that overseas students intending to take a PhD should be granted visas for the entire intended period of study, on the 1+ 3.5 model, plus an extra 0.5 to allow for re-writing and graduation. Academic failure would cancel the visa, so any students who did fail the masters would not be entitled to remain in the UK for a further 4 years on their student visa.

We also wish to draw attention to how much UK postgraduate education depends on overseas students. To give but the most extreme example among the UK's larger institutions (over 4,000 students), overseas postgraduate students represent 42.2% of the total student enrolment of the London School of Economics. Their fees represent 33.6% of total income. The average figures for England are 6.2% and 7.5% respectively[1]. A steep decline in the number of overseas students at such institutions would represent a significant loss of income to many institutions, with consequences for the number of staff employed and the range of courses available, including, we should not forget, for undergraduates.

Q11. On average, how many Leave to Remain applications do you make per year?

n/a

This service is outwith the remit of the NPC

Q12. If you make multiple applications, what is the average number of applicants in a multiple application submitted with a Single Payment?

n/a

See Q 11.

References

1. Sastry, Tom, "Postgraduate Education in the United Kingdom", Higher Education Policy Unit, November 2004, pp 31.