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As the new academic year begins, many in British business education will resume efforts to convince the UK Border Agency that its recently introduced visa restrictions on international students are damaging not just the higher education sector, but the UK as well.

Britain remains a leader in business education, with some of the highest-ranked schools in the world and a culture noted for its emphasis on teaching students how to think, not what to think. It is essential that business schools are able to build an international student population, which feeds the cultural exchange and the contacts business graduates need to succeed in today’s globalised economy. Yet recent UK Border Agency restrictions adopt a hostile approach to international students, attempting to shut the doors to the UK with a broad brush immigration policy that significantly reduces the attractiveness of the UK as a destination in the global market for higher education.

In 2010 the British Library and the Higher Education Policy Institute found that international students were a significant driver of growth in the postgraduate sector, worth about £5bn a year to the UK’s economy and with fees constituting up to 40 per cent of a university’s annual income. British business schools contribute more than £7.5bn to the UK’s economy, with significant contributions to local and regional economies, including attracting students, staff and a skilled workforce to the local area.

With 23 per cent of the 3m internationally mobile students studying business and one in three international students in the UK studying business or related qualifications, UK Border Agency restrictions on international students will have a profound impact on British business and management education. These changes include limiting the number of places available to international students and removing the option of a post-study work visa that allows skilled international graduates the opportunity for up to two years’ UK work experience before returning home.

Multi-cultural awareness is integral to business education. With more than 13,600 institutions worldwide offering at least one bachelor-level (or higher) business degree in English it is clear there is greater global competition in business education than in other areas of higher education. The MBA has a global reputation and it continues to be attractive to international students and global business.

Traditionally, it has been the US, UK and Australia that have the highest numbers of international students. With UK student visa restrictions, Australia and the US are benefiting from more progressive policies with, for example, more than a 16 per cent increase in international applications in Australia in the past year.

With a recent UK National Union of Students survey stating that 94 per cent of international students claim that the post-study work visa was a critical factor when deciding where to study, the financial impact of restrictions on international student mobility is obvious.

Less diversity in business education will have other negative effects. For example, a positive British educational experience reaps dividends for international relations and diplomatic affairs.

Threatening the sustainability and quality of UK business schools affects the country’s competitiveness. The commercialisation of intellectual property is central to future competitiveness and business and management education is a rerequisite for fostering a culture of enterprise, developing next-generation workforce skills and improving economic performance.

The business school sector is one of the last British manufacturers – manufacturers of talent – and reducing its abilityin this regard will damage the UK’s global standing. Business schools are at their best when they fully embrace their global role. The UK government must revisit the issue of visa restrictions for international students – for the benefit of all business students as well as the economy and society.

Amanda Broderick is dean and chair in marketing at Salford Business School

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