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UK business schools have been joined by Members of Parliament in supporting changes to current migration laws that restrict the schools’ ability to compete in the international market for top students.

A report by the House of Commons committee on business, innovation and skills has criticised the government’s failure to act upon the committee’s recommendations, made in September 2012, for international students to be excluded from net migration figures.

In Australia, Canada and the US, the UK’s main competitors in the higher education market, overseas students are excluded from the net migration figures. The UK government is committed to reducing net immigration.

In addition to issue of student visas, there have been changes in work visa regulations, which mean that graduates must meet strict conditions to remain in the UK following their degrees.

“This set of policies makes no sense on any count,” according to Michael Luger, dean of Manchester Business School, “It has a great impact on the flow of talent to UK universities,” he says, explaining that many prospective students, particularly Indian students, are being dissuaded from choosing UK schools.

Julia Balogun, associate dean at Lancaster University Management School also reports that demand from India, particularly among prospective MBA students, has declined. “It’s quite clear that the change in immigration policy has had an impact on the attractiveness of the UK as a place for postgraduate study,” she says.

This ongoing challenge comes at a time when demand for full-time MBA programmes is declining in established markets. According to FT analysis published in January, enrolment on the UK’s top full-time MBA programmes dropped 21 per cent between 2010 and 2012.

In this climate, John Reast, acting dean of Bradford University School of Management, which has historically recruited a large share of its full-time MBA cohort from outside the European Union, says that the restrictions are an added impediment to its MBA recruitment.

The impact of immigration policy is not restricted to attracting students, Prof Luger points out, but also to professors. The Manchester dean cites the time-consuming process for renewing work visas for overseas teachers, which, he says, has caused “anguish” for at least one colleague.

The Commons committee report highlighted figures from Universities UK, a body representing British universities, that reported a decline of 2 per cent in non-EU postgraduate enrolment from 2010 to 2011, the first such decline in a decade. The report concluded that “the government should listen, think again and change course”.

Data published by the Office for National Statistics showed that overall net migration had fallen by a third in the year to June 2012, with an 18 per cent decrease in overseas student arrivals. Mark Harper, immigration minister, commented that the government has “tightened the routes where abuse was rife and overall numbers are down as a result”.

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