Studying in the UK: An increasingly frustrating experience for overseas students?

Today I got another email from my University’s Registry to remind me that my ‘census point’ for Semester 3 is in three weeks time… our guestblogger Lian writes about her experiences as an overseas student in Edinburgh and about changes to the Tier 4 International Student Visa.


By Lian Kim Selby

Lian Kim Selby is currently studying International Relations at the University of Edinburgh, and a volunteer at Migrants’ Rights Scotland. An American from Singapore now living in Scotland, she takes keen interest in issues of migration and human rights.



Today I got another email from my University’s Registry to remind me that my ‘census point’ for Semester 3 is in three weeks time.
What exactly is a ‘census point’? Starting 2012, the University has since introduced census points within the academic year in order to confirm the attendance of students holding a Tier 4 visa. This has been done to ensure the University and its students meet the UK Border Agency’s statutory requirements. This ‘census point’ involves me reporting in person to one of the stated venues during one week in February to have my continued attendance in the University confirmed.

Upon reading this email, I was immediately confused. Didn’t I confirm my attendance for the year last semester? I vividly remember my trek in October to the college Registry building, passport and matriculation card at hand, confirming that I was indeed, attending the University and that I fully intend to continue doing so. I searched up on this for further information, and found an article on the front page of a UK immigration site titled ‘UK Tier 4 Student visa & Tier 1 visa changes coming soon – apply now’.

More changes? Again? I continued reading the article and was most disappointed upon reading about further restrictions applied to incoming students on the Tier 4 visa. Not only will current Tier 4 students be inspected throughout the year, but beginning 1 April 2012, the following major changes will be applied to students on the Tier 4 visas-

  • Work placements will be restricted to one-third of the course, unless the course is at degree level and the sponsor is a higher education institution or the student is on a study abroad programme.
  • Tier 4 visa holders will be limited to the time they can spend at degree level to 5 years, with certain exemptions for longer courses and doctorates at higher education institutions.
  • The Tier 1 Post-study work visa will be closed from April 2012. This category gave fresh graduates a non-renewable two-year period to transfer to another immigration category. Now, the UKBA will still offer visas through Tier 2 of the points-based system for graduates; however, in most cases only graduates who have an offer of a skilled job from a sponsoring employer under Tier 2 of the points-based system will be able to stay and work in the UK.

With all this new regulation coming in, and university fees going up, overseas students now have many things to consider. Students that do successfully manage to gain entry in universities will have high expectations for their money, in addition to their time. UK Universities must firstly deliver and ensure that students are getting a quality, world-class education in order that overseas students will continue to arrive on British soil.

Constant changes to regulations also make things extremely disorganized and confusing to incoming and current overseas students, making the process extremely frustrating for many.

In addition to this, the UK should also consider that by issuing these new regulations and applying these new rules, the UK might struggle on the international front. The UK is seemingly ‘hostile’ towards overseas students by not only making it more difficult for students to obtain visas, but also, as stated above, limiting the work they can do whilst studying here, the time they have to study, and also the time they have after their period of study. Overseas students might find it not only easier but also more beneficial if they went to another country that allowed them time to work during their study, more time to do their studies, and also more time after their University study to find work. Countries like Australia or the United States, countries that offer quality education comparable to the United Kingdom, may start looking more attractive to these students.

Ministers must consider this aspect of their migration policy as they consider its economic impact. Such policies and regulation may also damage participation and social mobility. The UK higher education sector will most certainly continue to adapt, challenge and make changes in order to benefit the society and economy. Whether it will make provisions in order to accommodate and open up, even if just a little bit more, to overseas students, well, we have to wait and see.

One E-mail received in my Inbox? Let’s hope it’s not another change in regulation…