Skip to main content
Skip to main content

Higher Education Better Regulation Group releases comprehensive study on the cost of the student visa regime

HEBRG says UK universities spent £67m in 2012-13 to meet Home Office requirements
Date of Publication:
11 July 2013

Higher Education Better Regulation Group releases comprehensive study on the cost of the student visa regime

11 July 2013

The Higher Education Better Regulation Group (HEBRG) has today published a new report on the costs and benefits of Tier 4 student immigration regulation.

HEBRG says that its report is the most comprehensive study of the cost of Tier 4 regulation to date.

The report estimates that the total cost to the higher education sector was £66,800,910 in 2012-13.

You can read the full report here and you can read HEBRG's press release below:



11 July 2013 (LONDON) – The Higher Education Better Regulation Group (HEBRG) has released research on the costs and benefits of the current student visa regime on UK higher education institutions. The research estimates that the total cost to the sector in 2012-13 was £66,800,910. This is more than £26M higher than the most recent estimates.

Andrew Boggs, Policy Adviser with HEBRG, said, "Higher education institutions are prepared to meet Home Office expectations on student visa compliance, but confusion over requirements and constant rule changes have led to waste and overspending in an effort to comply.

"This study took a representative sample of higher education providers with international [non-EU] students. We found that, on average, they are investing £312,000 to £358,000 per year to meet visa oversight requirements.

"However, there is tremendous variability between institutions. One institution was found to be spending 50 times more per student than another to meet regulations, yet both are meeting Tier 4 visa requirements. We found that this variability cannot be explained by economies of scale or intensity of international student enrolment. The data points to irregular and varied interpretations of Tier 4 visa compliance requirements across institutions."

The report makes a series of recommendations for improving visa compliance and reducing the cost burden to institutions. Andrew Boggs added, "Applying a sliding penalty structure, rather than 'all or nothing' punishments for institutions, regular training events for higher education providers, and providing feedback on visa refusals, in addition to the Home Office's introduction of an immigration Higher Education Assurance Team, could help institutions to do their job more effectively while reducing the cost to institutions and, by extension, students and the public."

This research is the most comprehensive study of the higher education sector's international student visa costs to date. The study included case studies of seven selected higher education providers, consultation with 43 higher education providers and a survey of 24 higher education providers. The analytic tool developed for this project may be used to monitor the financial impact of changes to Tier 4 regulatory requirements in future.


For further information please contact Andrew Boggs
tel: 02074195501


1 HEBRG was established in 2010 to address changing public and political attitudes towards accountability and the evolving regulatory landscape of higher education. HEBRG is supported by Universities UK and GuildHE, and is funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the Scottish Funding Council, and the Department for Employment and Learning (Northern Ireland). HEBRG has an independent chair, Sir Tim Wilson, and a wide membership drawn from the HE sector and regulatory bodies. For more information, please see

2 Please find the full HEBRG publication, Final Report: Cost and benefit analysis project on immigration regulation (July 2013), attached. The report will also be available through the HEBRG website under 'Our Work'.

3 The most recent cost estimate of Tier 4 compliance was made in July 2012. The Public Accounts Committee estimated that Tier 4 compliance costs across the entire education sector were £40M, believing the National Audit Office assumption of £25.5M of net direct costs to be an underestimation. See: National Audit Office (2012). Home Office: UK Border Agency Immigration: The Points Based System-Student Route. Public Accounts Committee, July.

4 The institutions included in this study were selected to represent a cross section of higher education providers participating in Tier 4 visa regulation. This included:

• Geographical representation

• Balance of postgraduate and undergraduate instruction

• Intensity of overseas student enrolment

• Type of higher education provider.

Sector-wide estimates were extrapolated from the data provided by this selection of institutions.