Concerns degrees like 'Middle East queer politics' used as immigration route into UK

Government has pledged to restrict the ability of international students to bring family members to cut net migration
Government has pledged to restrict the ability of international students to bring family members to cut net migration - Yuen Man Cheung/Alamy

International students can take masters degrees in “Transnational Queer Feminist Politics” and “Queer Studies”, prompting fears that courses which do little to fill skills gaps are being used as an immigration route.

Soas University of London, popular among international students, with 1,890 studying full time (2021-2022), runs masters courses in the “Anthropology of Food” as well as “Transnational Queer Feminist politics with special reference to the Middle East” – both costing £25,320 per year for overseas students (compared to £12,220 per year for domestic students).

The latter includes a module on “Queering Migrations and Diasporas” and Soas advertises scholarships for such courses.

One of these covers living, tuition and return airfare costs for “five Indian nationals” and another is for candidates “who are nationals of Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Palestine territories”.

At University College London (UCL), the most popular with 22,885 international students (2021/22), overseas students can pay £31,100 to study MAs in Gender, Society and Representation Masters and Race Ethnicity and Postcolonial Studies.

At the University of York, where 5,765 international students studied between 2021/22, overseas students can apply to do an MA in Queer Studies for £23,900, which allows them to explore “the cultures that shaped us, and the cultures we shape, through an intersectional queer lens.”

The course includes modules in “Gothic Bodies” and “Late Medieval Sexualities”.

Under current graduate visa rules, international students are allowed to remain in the UK for at least two years after successfully completing a course.

This goes up to three years for PhDs and other doctoral qualifications.

Around 39 per cent of all postgraduates are international students, with the last census showing that a third of the international student population was based in London.

Prof Brian Bell, the chairman of the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), previously told the Sunday Telegraph that he had warned the Government five years ago – when the two-year visa was introduced – that it could offer graduates a backdoor route to remain in the UK in low-skilled work.

It helped fuel a 10-fold increase in foreign students bringing dependents to the UK.

Since 2018, the number of postgraduate student dependents has risen from 16,000 to 135,000. There are also 73,000 students on graduate visas.

Degrees ‘generate income for universities’

Miriam Cates, a Conservative MP, said: “It’s hard to believe that degree courses such as these carry any merit or academic rigour. They appear to exist only to generate income for universities and provide a low bar route to entry for international students and their dependents.

“Of course we want the world’s brightest and the best to be able to study for serious degrees at our elite universities, but it is hard to see what skills will be learned from these courses apart from how to deny reality and rewrite history. The Government needs to tighten up study visa rules.”

Alp Mehmet, chairman of Migration Watch, said the findings were “yet more evidence of how desperate the higher education sector is to attract overseas students to supplement their shrinking budgets.

He said: “Such trendy degrees will do little to advance the interests of people struggling in the countries from which students are coming. In which Middle East or South Asia state might it be useful to brandish a degree in ‘Transnational Queer Feminist Politics’? Universities offering these courses need to take a long look in the mirror.”

A spokesman for Soas said: “We are proud of our diverse international community at Soas and welcome students from across the globe to study a wide range of subjects including in disciplines such as law, finance and management, politics and languages.”

A UCL spokesman said: “We are proud to have a thriving and diverse student community at UCL, with the brightest minds from the UK and more than 150 other countries, choosing to study and research here.

“Analysis commissioned by UCL shows our international students contributed £1.7 billion to the economy in 2018/19 and this is estimated to have supported over 12,000 jobs across the UK.

“We offer over 650 masters programmes in a huge variety of subjects, including the arts, humanities and social and historical sciences. Our graduates in these academic disciplines go on to have highly successful careers, working globally for private sector companies, governments, schools, charities, NGOs, and as entrepreneurs.

“This strong international student community also brings fresh ideas, a diverse cultural and social perspective, and extensive networks that bring huge benefit to the UK and beyond.”

To cut net migration levels, the Government has pledged to restrict the ability of international students to bring family members “on all but postgraduate research routes”.

The University of York was contacted for comment.

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