British Government's clamp-down on foreign students would make it harder for universities to attract the “best” students from around the world, Oxford University Vice-Chancellor Andrew Hamilton told The Hindu on Saturday as he prepared to leave for a week-long visit to India, a major catchment area for British higher education institutions looking for bright and well-heeled overseas students.

Professor Hamilton said that Oxford was working with other universities to lobby the government while trying to minimise the impact of the increasingly stringent—and often arbitrary—student visa rules.

“We have communicated to the government our concerns that the proposed changes will make it harder for us to attract the best students in the world to Oxford. We have lobbied extensively ourselves, and supported both Universities-UK and the Russell Group making representations to government over the changes,'' he said.

The Russell Group comprises elite British universities such as Oxford, Cambridge and the London School of Economics.

Professor Hamilton, whose visit is aimed at recruiting post-graduate Indian students to Oxford besides exploring collaborations with Indian academic institutions, was concerned that government plans to restrict post-study stay in Britain to only certain categories of students was likely to deter many potential students from coming here.

The Vice-chancellor hoped that the advantages of an Oxford degree would remain a pull for serious students, especially from India with its 140-year-old links with India.

“Whatever happens, we will try to make sure that students can take advantage of the new route in Tier 2 to stay on and work where appropriate. Above all we know that an Oxford degree is highly regarded by employers all over the world, so is excellent preparation for a career wherever our students choose to work,'' he said.

Professor Hamilton's remarks revealed the growing tension between a Conservative-led government set on a political agenda to drastically cut down immigration numbers and a cash-strapped higher education sector heavily dependent on fee-paying foreign students who often pay as much as three times more for the same course than their domestic peers. They contribute some £9 billion to the U.K. economy every year, much of it through university fee. There have been allegations that some British universities tend to bend admission rules to attract foreign students.

Professor Hamilton strongly denied any such practices at Oxford.

“This is absolutely not the case at Oxford. Admission to Oxford is incredibly competitive and based strictly on merit alone – it is not in our interest as a world-leading university to accept anyone but the very best students. And this is as true at postgraduate level where there is a far greater mix of international students as it is at undergraduate level. Oxford is interested in only the very best students who will contribute to its world-leading research, irrespective of nationality, and does not regard foreign students simply as a source of income,'' he said.

Highlighting Oxford's close links with India, Professor Hamilton said the Indian students first came to Oxford in 1871, and Oxford's India Institute was founded in 1883.

“Indians are the sixth largest national group at Oxford. So Indian students coming here will find a large and vibrant community,'' he said.

His visit, he said, was meant to “celebrate'' Oxford's long-standing links with India.

  • ‘Advantages of an Oxford degree will remain a pull for serious students'

  • Professor Hamilton's visit is aimed at recruiting post-graduate Indian students to Oxford