London: The viability of Science and Technology departments in British universities is likely to be threatened due to the recent changes to student visas that have led to the perception that Britain no longer welcomes international students, a House of Lords committee said.
In its latest report, the Science and Technology Committee of the upper house said that the student visa restrictions could damage the availability of skills in Maths and Science, areas that are highly prized by employers.
A large component of students on courses in STEM (Science, technology, Engineering and Maths) come from India and other non-EU countries.
Some universities have already reported a drop in student applications from India for the forthcoming academic year starting September-October.
The committee said that universities were particularly reliant on overseas students for Engineering courses.
Professor David Wark from Imperial College London told the committee that 40 percent of its students were non-EU students and that if they were to lose them "it would have a severe impact on our ability to perform research that keeps Imperial College as a world-leading institution".
Noting that the post-study work visa was popular among Indian students and was closed in April, the committee said that "This visa had been highly valued by overseas students as a way of gaining work experience before returning to their countries of origin, and to help to fund their study".
The Engineering Professors' Council told the committee that "almost all engineering departments in the UK would be running at a loss if it were not for overseas students' fees", and that, in a poll they had conducted, 16 out of 27 higher education institutions had reported a reduction in overseas applications to Masters courses.
The report quoted Professor Julia King, Vice-Chancellor of Aston University, as saying: "We are highly dependent on overseas students to keep our engineering courses running and solvent".
Lord Willis, chairman of the Lords Sub-Committee on Higher Education in STEM Subjects, said: "We are concerned that changes to the immigration rules may reduce the number of overseas students coming to study to the UK and, therefore, the income that HEIs (Higher Education Institutions) derive from these students to support other activities".
He added: "This may result in a general reduction of provision of STEM courses that rely on this income to make them viable".
The committee said: "The perception that the UK does not welcome students may be having a detrimental effect on recruitment from some countries such as India. The UK must be seen to welcome the brightest and the best and the Government must increase their efforts to dispel perceptions that the UK does not welcome students.
"We recommend that the Government develop a strategy to send out a more positive message through the UKBA website, immigration agencies and the British Council".
First Published: Wednesday, July 25, 2012, 20:48