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Prime Minister Encourages Indian Students to Britain

Ahead his visit to India next week, Prime Minister David Cameron has urged Indian students to come to the UK to study. After changes to visa restrictions the number of Indian students in Britain is down a quarter and there are concerns that the government's tough rhetoric on immigration has contributed to this drop.

Speaking to India's Sunrise TV, Mr Cameron emphasised that the changes to the visa system are not as strict as often thought and that Britain is still eager for international students to come to study:

"The fact is today, as we stand, and this is going to be the case going forward, there is no limit on the number of students who can come from India to study at British universities, no limit at all. All you need is a basic English qualification and a place at a British university. And what's more, after you've left a British university, if you can get a graduate-level job there is no limit to the amount of people who can stay and work, or the time that they can stay at work."

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Negative Language of UK Higher Education Criticised

A number of high profile figures in British higher education have added their voices to the growing concern at the language being used by the government. A few weeks ago, head of Universities UK Nicola Dandridge attacked the "damaging" rhetoric being used politicians when talking about international students coming to study in the UK.

Edward Acton, vice-chancellor of the University of East Anglia is the latest to question the wisdom of taking a hard line when it comes to international students:

"It has never been more urgent to underline the warmth of the UK welcome to overseas students," he said. Negative Home Office rhetoric needs to be vigorously countered by bringing home the quality and the personal care available at British universities."

There is the perception that tougher visa restrictions have made it harder for international students to study in the UK over the last couple of years. Whilst this is true to an extent, the reforms have been greatly exaggerated through the rhetoric used by politicians.

Promoting Higher Education

This series of attacks comes after statistics released earlier this month showed a slight fall in international students applying to the UK, with some alarming trends- including a 24% drop in the number of Indian students.

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Government Attacked as International Student Applications Fall

Amidst predictions that international student applications are falling, the latest attack on the government's stance on student visas has come from Universities UK chief executive Nicola Dandridge.

The latest figures from UCAS show that non-EU undergraduate applications for this year have increased by 0.8% on last year. Whilst this may not sound like a problem, the average increase has been 7% every year since 2007, meaning that international student numbers have been hit. Similarly, figures show that the number of Indian students applying to UK universities has fallen by 9%- a figure expected to rise to 25% by the end of this year.

More worryingly, the Office for National Statistics revealed in November that the number of student visas issued in 2012 had fallen by 26% compared to previous year.

Student visas have been a hot topic in Britain for the past few years, with politicians promising to tighten regulations to ensure fake students cannot cheat the immigration system. Along the way, it has become commonplace for high profile politicians to use phrases like "bogus students" whilst promising an aggressive clamp down on visas.

It is rhetoric like this that Nicola Dandridge believes is putting off prospective international students:

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Bulgarian and Romanian Students Fighting for their Dreams

Yuliya is a Bulgarian first year Journalism student at UWE in Bristol. Here she argues that Romanian and Bulgarian students should be given the same rights as students from other EU countries.

"Despite being part of the last enlargement of the EU in 2007, Bulgarians and Romanians are still facing work restrictions in the UK. Although they will be lifted in 2014, many students face the risk of not finishing their studies. Not only are the living costs a problem, but so are the paid placements that are part of many undergraduate and postgraduate courses around the country.

Imagine you are a student coming from Bulgaria or Romania. You are passionate about the course you have chosen and you are impatient to settle down in the UK. You are ready to study hard and to work part-time in between the lectures, because you are coming from one of the poorest countries in the EU with an average salary of under £300 a month.

In the middle of September you say good-bye to your friends and family; you arrange your new accommodation; start meeting new people... everything seems perfect except the money issue. You know that you have to apply for the so called "yellow card" - the work permit you need as a Bulgarian or Romanian.

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Theresa May Explains Student Visa Changes

On Wednesday (12th December) Theresa May- the British Home Secretary, made a speech about the changes to immigration and the visa system that she and the government have brought in over the last few years. A large part of the speech focussed on international students and the restrictions that have been introduced on student visas. Here we have the important parts regarding foreign students word by word:  

"We have always been clear that we want Britain to attract the brightest and best talent from around the world - the top academics, brightest students, the best businessmen, investors, skilled workers and entrepreneurs who will contribute to our society, our economy and our way of life."

...

"I also want to build on the principle of appealing to exceptionally talented people, so I intend to add a further 1,000 places a year for MBA graduates who want to stay in Britain and start up businesses."

Fighting Abuse

"We changed student visas to make sure that while we still attract the brightest and the best, and we still protect our world-class education establishments, we eradicate abuse from the system."

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