Students still look to Britain despite limits on numbers

13:16, July 12, 2010      

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A controversial plan by the British coalition government to cap the number of skilled immigrants from non-EU countries seems unlikely to stop enthusiastic Chinese from pursuing higher education in the UK.

"I am thinking twice about my plan of studying abroad and looking at other countries, but it seems the UK is still most likely to remain my final choice," said Bai Jing, a student in her final year of journalism at Wuhan-based Huazhong University of Science and Technology.

The 21-year-old chose the UK for advanced courses in media studies so that she could complete her master's degree in only one year.

But getting a job in the UK after graduation for someone like her could become harder, because the new coalition government is considering a yearly cap on the number of non-EU highly-skilled and skilled workers entering Britain.

British Home Secretary Theresa May, who announced the plan in late June, also said the country would introduce further curbs on international students "in due course".

Still, Bai doesn't consider the new measures that bad for her, as she has not been thinking much about staying in the country after graduation. "If there were a chance, I would like to stay and work for a couple of more years to gain better experience."

But what may affect her is a reduction in the allowable hours of working time for students, from 20 hours a week to 10 hours, introduced by the former Labour Government in the spring.

"Less part-time work means a loss for me, not only of money, but also the social experience in such a different culture," Bai said.

Similarly, overseas-study agents in China believe the change is not going to affect Chinese students' choices.

"The UK has been tightening its immigration policy for years, compared to other countries like Canada and Australia," said Sean Dong, director of the Europe project department of Bole Overseas Education, one of the most widely known Beijing-based agents.

Dong added that students who intend to immigrate do not look first to the UK, but are drawn there because of simpler requirements for first-class universities and lower costs.

China is a major source of foreign students for British universities, many of which rely heavily on overseas students to earn more money. The direct impact of overseas students on the UK economy is estimated at 8.5 billion pounds ($12.8 billion), according to latest figures by the British Council.

According to a BBC report, British colleges and universities enrolled 30,240 students from non-EU countries in 2008. One in five was from China.

Sheng Xiaodong, director of the UK department from another top overseas education agent, Jin Jilei Overseas Education, gave a similar analysis.

"Few students who came to us even asked about it," Sheng said. "Immigration policy is not their concern."

Such optimism in China may ease the nerves of British universities, who are complaining about the plan.

"The cap will be difficult for universities as a significant proportion of the academic workforce is, and always has been, international," said Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, whose members are executive heads of UK universities.

"The success of the UK's higher education sector depends on our ability to attract the most highly talented people to work and study here. Anything that diminishes our ability to do this will undermine the quality of what we do and our ability to compete internationally," Dandridge said.

But while the educational sector is complaining about the new plan, some universities choose to be positive and look beyond. Caroline Usher, director of external relations of King's College London, a quarter of whose total 23,000 students are foreign, said: "We are confident that the caliber of students we are attracting will always secure maximum points in whatever sort of immigration system may be introduced by the government."

Source: China Daily


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