Press release

Reform student visa process to grow international student numbers, says MillionPlus

13 Mar 2019

In a policy briefing published today (13 March), MillionPlus, the Association for Modern Universities, calls for the reform of the Tier 4 student visa application process if Britain is to boost international student numbers.

The current system is unduly subjective, overly complex and acts as a non-tariff barrier to trade, hindering growth towards the government’s target of achieving £30bn in education exports by 2020.

The briefing, A new system for student visas, outlines two proposals that would bring welcome improvement to the application process.

The first would see the introduction of new out-of-country provisional visas to be issued by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) before a prospective student applies to their chosen university, reversing the current process in which applicants first apply to a university before they are referred to UKVI. This would simplify the complicated and burdensome process in place now, in which a great deal of work is essentially duplicated for applicants, universities and UKVI officials.

The second involves streamlining and simplifying the current compliance regime by phasing out the general use of credibility interviews, where far too much subjectivity is built into the process, and by scrapping the arbitrary 10% maximum refusal rate for highly trusted providers such as universities. Under the present system, a university which sees more than 10% of its international student applicants rejected by UKVI faces the real risk of having its licence to recruit internationally revoked. This ties a university’s hands and hinders economic growth.

In both alternatives, the ideal system fosters a stronger, more transparent and holistic partnership between the Home Office and the university sector, while focusing on the real issues of compliance instead of those which are simply the easiest to measure. We hope these proposals can kickstart conversations around much-required change.

Dr Greg Walker, Chief Executive of MillionPlus, said:

“International students contribute to the vibrancy and diversity of our campuses, support tens of thousands of jobs and generate £26bn for Britain’s economy. Politicians and the public are united in agreement that international students have a huge positive impact on the UK in many respects, something confirmed by the recent Migration Advisory Committee Report.

“But rather than helping enable that growth, the current Tier 4 student visa system merely hampers it with smothering bureaucracy and over reliance on credibility interviews that hinge on the subjectivity of UKVI and Home Office processes. These problems hit some universities more than others. This cannot be right: a reboot of the system is much needed.

“Our proposals would go a long way toward making the system more just, and one that works for all universities, applicants and for the UK as a whole.”


Notes to editors

  • For further information or to arrange an interview, please contact Dan Blows on 020 7717 1658 or email
  • The full policy briefing can be found here
  • MillionPlus is the Association for Modern Universities in the UK, and the voice of 21st century higher education. We champion, promote and raise awareness of the essential role and impact of modern universities in the UK’s world-leading higher education sector. More information can be found at
  • What are modern universities? Modern universities are long established centres of higher education in their communities with roots that stretch back decades, if not centuries. Many gained university title following legislation agreed by parliament in 1992. They make up almost half of the UK university sector with over a million students studying at modern universities every year.
  • Modern universities: key facts 2018