UK universities demand visa reforms

The UK's leading universities are calling on the government to fast-track the post-study work visa and extend it by six months in a bid to ensure Britain retains its appeal to overseas students.

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With the Covid-19 outbreak expected to have a major impact on the number of international students - almost half a million of whom enrolled in UK universities in the 2019-20 academic year - the Russell Group, which represents 24 leading UK universities, published a set of proposals on Wednesday aimed at ensuring Britain retains its appeal as a global destination.Dr Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group, said: “International students bring many benefits to the UK, but as the world recovers from the Covid-19 crisis, we have to expect numbers will fall for a while and that competition from other countries will be even more fierce than usual."With more top universities than any country other than the US, the UK has an advantage, but we must maintain that and protect our hard-won reputation as one of the best places globally to study for a degree.“The government has shown its determination to do that with the new two-year, post-study work visa and now is the time to build on this progress. Further action to streamline the immigration process, alongside an ambitious campaign to show the UK’s doors are open will be crucial to helping the country bounce back.”
The Russell Group proposals are based on a three-point plan:
  • Continuing visa reforms to streamline the immigration process, including immediate legislation to enshrine the post-study work visa in law. The group wants to see the length of the visa extended from 24 to 30 months.
Overseas students should also be allowed to apply for a visa six months (rather than three) before their courses start and there should be a review of compliance policies to ensure international students feel welcome. There should also be an extension of concessions for disruption caused by Covid-19, such as fee waivers for existing students forced to extend visas.TASIS-education-webinar-in-text-banner-playback
  • An international marketing campaign involving universities, the British Council, the Department for Education and the Department for International Trade, aimed at key countries such as China and India, to show the UK and its universities are an open, safe and welcoming place to study.
  •  A government drive to seek a global agreement over the recognition of online courses. At present, some nations do not recognise international degrees which involve significant elements of online learning, even though such practices are becoming increasingly common because of the pandemic.
The Universities UK International organisation has already called for the budget for the country’s existing ‘Study UK‘ marketing campaign to be increased from the current £6 million to £20 million.Vivienne Stern, the organisation's director said: “We must and protect our hard-won reputation as one of the best places globally to study for a degree.”However, she said the “most pressing issue” was getting the visa system working correctly. "We need to do everything we can to get the government to be creative and to put in place flexible and responsive arrangements,” Ms Stern told PIE News.“If you think about how universities went from nothing to teaching everybody online, I would like the Home Office to approach this crisis with the same spirit of enterprise.”Despite, the Home Office applying automatic visa extensions and introducing self-assessment of English qualifications for universities efficiently, applicants still face a barrier when applying for visas, Ms Stern said, because of the closure of visa offices.“We want to get that message out that the UK is open for business. It’s very hard to do that if the visa system closed,” she added. “We want to get that message out that the UK is open for business.”

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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