Universities and unions have condemned Amber Rudd’s proposals for increased restrictions on international students at UK universities. The Home Secretary announced her plans in a speech at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham last week. The proposals include the introduction of ‘two-tier’ visa rules, which would link immigration regulations to the quality of the institution and course. The minister’s speech prompted a damning response from the higher education sector.

Labour MP Paul Blomfield, co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on international students, described the proposals as “spectacularly ill-informed,” and called Rudd’s speech “an act of madness.” The Sheffield Central MP called the higher education sector “one of (Britain’s) most successful export industries. The only people cheering today’s announcement will be our competitors.”

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU) criticised Rudd’s plans to reduce migration, saying that “limiting overseas students to particular universities and courses equates to pulling up the drawbridge.” Speaking on behalf of UCU, the organisation which represents university staff, she added that “ministers need to take a very different approach and support universities by removing international students from the net migration target altogether.”

Mostafa Rajaai, NUS international students’ officer, added: “The government’s hostile attitude towards international students has already caused irreversible damage to the reputation of the UK higher and further education sectors overseas. The new proposals assume the vast majority of international students studying across the country are immigration threats and will lead to further discrimination. International students, like all migrants, should be treated with respect and dignity. He confirmed that “the NUS will be opposing these proposals every step of the way.”

Sorana Vieru, NUS Higher Education Vice-President, said: “International students definitely should not be incorporated into immigration targets.” She added that it was wrong for the government to treat these students as “a political football.”

University of East Anglia Vice-Chancellor Professor David Richardson responded to the Home Secretary’s plans, saying: “UEA has a long and proud history of students and researchers from across the globe coming to study, undertake research and work in Norwich.”

“Our international students and staff bring significant cultural and economic benefits to the city, county and region and they become real ambassadors for UEA, Norwich and Norfolk when they return home.”

He added: “International students make a £7 billion contribution to the UK economy and generate almost 137,000 jobs across the UK.”

UEA SU International Student’s Officer, Malaika Jaovisidha, has responded to the proposals in a statement on the Union website, in which she claimed the proposals “can only be seen as an attempt to further restrict the lawful rights of current and potential international students.”

She described the Home Secretary’s plan as an “outrageous, xenophobic proposal preventing those at a disadvantage from receiving the quality education they may desire.” Jaovisidha also stated that: “the National Union of Students have publicly announced their concerns and disagreements with this proposal, and as an affiliate we will support and work alongside them to fight against it.”

Speaking to Concrete, the International Students Officer commented on “the enormous contribution” UEA’s international students make “educationally, to our economy and to our local community.” She added that the Union would “like to see international students treated as part of the community rather than a commodity by the government,” and insisted that international students should not be treated as part of the UK’s net migration figures.

Jaovisidha confirmed that “the NUS is currently consulting on a range of campaigning tactics that will include direct action,” and stated that UEA SU will be discussing their response  over the coming weeks.