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Special to the tribune
Bilimoria joins UK biz leaders to bat for easier student visas
Shyam Bhatia in London

India-born Lord Karan Bilimoria is among 37 business leaders who have signed a letter calling on the UK Government to do more to attract foreign students to British universities. Bilimoria, 50, earned his B.Com from Osmania University in Hyderabad before coming to the UK where he graduated in law from Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, in 1988.

A co-founder of Cobra Beer, he is one of the many thousands of Indian students who benefitted from the UK Government’s previously liberal student visa policies.

Recent changes to visa rules, however, including new restrictions on the ability of foreign students and graduates to work in the UK, have seen steep falls in student visa applications from abroad.

University applications from India alone have fallen by more than 30 per cent as candidates look for places instead in Canada, Australia and even mainland Europe where student visa policies are becoming more liberal.

The UK Government is committed to reducing net immigration to less than 100,000 a year, but politicians believe this cannot be achieved without also reducing the huge number of non-European Union students (believed to be more than 250,000) attending British colleges and universities.

Earlier this year, two vice-chancellors warned how the UK was being seen as a less friendly destination for foreign students. Eric Thomas, vice-chancellor of Bristol University and president of universities in the UK, warned how the new visa rules could reduce the £5 billion that the UK earns in tuition fees. In a letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron Thomas said: “The UK seems to be telling the world it doesn’t welcome foreign students and that countries like China and India were sensitive to what they saw as new entry barriers.

In a separate comment, the vice-chancellor of Aston University in Birmingham, Julia King, confirmed a dramatic slump in applications from India which had dropped from 1,000 a year to 650 in 2012. “They believe the situation is much friendlier in Australia, the US and Canada — other places where they can learn in English,” King said.

In their letter published in Sunday Times dated July 22, Bilimoria and 36 other business leaders explain that Britain needs “to be able to attract the best minds from around the world, many of whom will have studied at our universities. At present the UK is a favoured destination for international students and we must protect this position. We therefore back the recent call for international university students to be removed from the domestic net migration statistics for policy purposes.” 





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