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Bright Blue Immigration Commission Submission

The Bright Blue has launched a commission to invite individuals and organisation to submit written evidence.  Details of the report and consultation along with the Terms of Reference can be found on the Bright Blue website. The submission produced by the Geological Society can be found below:

Submitted 18 August 2014

  1. The Geological Society is the UK’s learned and professional body for geoscience, with more than 11,000 Fellows (members) worldwide.  The Fellowship encompasses those working in industry, academia and government with a broad range of perspectives on policy-relevant science.The Society is a leading communicator of this science to government bodies and other non-specialist audiences.
  2. The Geological Society contributed to a call for evidence from the Science Council, along with several of their other member bodies, which informed their submission to the call for written evidence to the commission.  We support the evidence they have presented, and offer some supplementary comments below regarding immigration policy and students in our sector.  The evidence here was provided to us by members of the Geological Society, including postgraduate course directors and/or admissions officers.  We have not been able to survey such evidence systematically, so although we know that the issues identified affect some departments, we cannot say how widespread they are.  And it may be that the situation facing course leaders and their international students varies from year to year or between universities.  We would be pleased to provide further detail regarding the points raised in this submission, or to encourage individual members who have provided this information to speak with you directly on request.   

  4. An issue that particularly affects some MSc students is delays in visa processing for international students.  This can lead to a situation where the first two to three weeks of the course is missed and due to the short, intense workload on MSc courses, it can be very difficult for those students to catch up on work.  One of our contributors noted that visa obstacles had caused two international students to arrive at a course two to three weeks late, against advice, resulting in the students never being able to catch up and ultimately fail the course.  While this may be an extreme example, it has been reported to us that late arrivals are almost always due to visa complications and at best they lead to a 5-10% decrease in marks. 

  6. Many STEM subjects, especially geosciences, involve extensive study outside the UK as part of degree programmes (e.g. fieldwork, international conferences) and also collaborative work with industry (e.g. placements).  Delays and concerns over visas arrangements can, at best, complicate matters and, at worst, prevent participation by overseas students, especially Masters students where the study period is more limited.  Students often work in industry during PhD research, and this is highly beneficial for skills development and subsequent employment.  Students suspend their registration for the duration of their work with the industrial partner.  Overseas students are essentially excluded from these opportunities because if they suspend their registration they lose their visa status.  They can be similarly disadvantaged with regard to exchange opportunities which allow students to take time out of their PhD project to work on a related topic at an overseas institution.  The duration and structure of such schemes vary from case to case, so a ‘one size fits all’ approach to establishing appropriate visa rules may not be easily achieved.

  8. Visa stipulations (particularly for PhD students) can cause problems with funding during a postgraduate course.  Many students may obtain only partial funding or may be completing their studies self-funded.  Scholarships that are offered to international students are usually limited and do not cover all of their expenses.  In this case, it may only be possible for students to pursue doctoral studies if they also undertake part-time work.  Students who secure part-funding are often given opportunities to take up teaching assistant (TA) or research assistant (RA) jobs to support their studies.  Indeed, many departments see teaching as a crucial part of doctoral training.  It has been reported to us that international students cannot take up these opportunities due to the 20-hour work restriction.  

  10. Real or perceived changes in immigration policy may lead to reduced numbers of overseas students, who play an important part in making MSc programmes economically sustainable, as well as constituting a valuable UK export.  For further details on this issue, see our previous response to the House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills Committee’s 2011 inquiry on The Future of Higher Education (

  12. There are identified skills shortages in the UK workforce in a variety of geoscience specialisms, especially of individuals with more than ten years’ experience.  This issue is in part ameliorated by international candidates filling these posts.  However, the pattern of shortages is not straightforward, and the reasons for these shortages are complex.  There is more information on this issue in the Society’s previous response to the Migration Advisory Committee’s 2012 review of the shortage occupation lists for the UK and Scotland (, and in a report on the geoscience skills needs of UK industry commissioned by the Geological Society, also in 2012 (