Guardian League Table 2013: Ups and downs

New Guardian League Table for 2013

Top 20 of the full list (available here) is as follows (last year’s position in brackets):

1 (1) Cambridge
2 (2) Oxford
3 (4) LSE
4 (3) St Andrews
5 (6) Warwick
6 (5) UCL
7 (8) Durham
7 (7) Lancaster
9 (14) Bath
10 (11) Exeter
11 (9) Loughborough
12 (19) Surrey
13 (10) Imperial
14 (21) Glasgow
15 (16) Edinburgh
16 (na) Buckingham
17 (15) York
18 (25) Bristol
19 (17) Leicester
20 (27) Heriot Watt

The full story on the (not terribly surprising) news that Cambridge has held on to top slot for the second year running can be found here. A couple of comments in the piece are worth noting:

Most of the shifts in this year’s league table are due to changing levels of student satisfaction. Sussex dropped to 27th place from 11th after students in English and geography became significantly less happy with their departments. Stirling dropped from 44th to 67th after value-added scores in business and law declined.

Aberystwyth fell in six subjects, with declines in all performance measures. It drops from 50th place to 81st.

Among the climbers is Brunel, up from 82nd to 44th, taking the top spot for social work. Chester went from 80th to 52nd, with student satisfaction results driving improved ratings in biosciences, history, law and psychology. The career prospects of its biosciences graduates also improved. Coventry rose from 63rd to 46th, with student survey results a major factor.

Overall, there is plenty of swapping of places inside the top 10 and some more dramatic movements inside and beyond the top 20. Given the emphasis placed on NSS scores this is perhaps not much of a shock. But the high level of volatility in the table does keep things fresh every year. Irritating that University of Nottingham slips out of the top 20 though.

International students: not an immigration issue

Students really aren’t immigrants

Excellent piece in a recent edition of Times Higher Education by Edward Acton. The essence of his argument is that international students make a massive contribution to the UK economy and most of them leave the UK after graduating. In other words, they really should not be considered as part of the immigration debate. Unfortunately, for entirely political reasons, they are:

Students, in so far as they are regarded as immigrants at all, cause least concern. The vast majority leave after completing their studies. A Home Office study of the cohort entering in 2004 found that after five years, only 3 per cent had settled. Concern only rises if there is doubt that students are visa-compliant and duly exit when their visas expire. But it is acknowledged by all sides and underlined by the Home Office’s own detailed analysis that those with visas sponsored by universities have excellent standards of compliance.

No queuing here

…one clear solution is to lift university-sponsored students out of the net migration calculation. The case for doing so is overwhelming. These “migrants” are distinct. They are, as public policy in other countries recognises, temporary. They are known to have excellent standards of visa compliance. And, in spite of the Home Office, the government as a whole commits considerable resources to encouraging them to come to the UK.

The data needed to separate them is readily available. The Higher Education Statistics Agency collects from its members meticulous detail on each non-EU student joining and completing a higher education course. Every university records student visa start- and end-dates, as well as passport numbers. From this it is possible to derive and publish annual estimates of both the inflow and the outflow of non-EU students who come to the UK for university study.

While influential figures in both governing parties are supportive of the proposal, the Home Office is nervous. A spokeswoman has talked of the need to avoid “fiddling the statistics”. No doubt this reflects ministerial fear that any change to the net migration calculation might arouse public distrust. The fear is misplaced. It underrates the scope for raising the level of public debate. The pressure group MigrationWatch UK, often taken to be the fiercest immigration guard dog, repeatedly emphasises that legitimate international students are not an immigration problem.

As Acton concludes, students have to taken out of the migration stats. We should be focusing on other migrant categories and not students and then, it is to be hoped, it will be possible to undo the damage done internationally to the UK’s reputation.

The PIE news reports on a wave of media attention for UK student visa cap following an IPPR report which suggests that the government has included international students in the net migration count as a way of “gaming” the figures:

IPPR points out that the UK’s main competitors in the overseas student market – the USA, Canada and Australia – do not include temporary or “non-immigrant” admissions in immigration figures, and says only the 15% of overseas students who stay on to work permanently in Britain should be counted within the net migration figures.

More worryingly, it says the government’s plans – which include issuing 250,000 fewer student visas by 2015 – threaten to wipe £4bn to £6bn a year off the UK economy.

The major media response to the report will be welcomed by the education sector, and put pressure on the government as it prepares to announce the latest immigration statistics on May 24.

Higher education is one of the UK’s biggest and most successful export earners and one sector in which we enjoy a real competitive advantage. Now more than ever we need to support it.