UK must end 'hostile' student visa demands

The UK government should double to four years the length of post-study work visas to enable universities to continue to attract overseas students in the post-pandemic era, according to a new report.

Published by the Policy Institute at King’s College London and the Harvard Kennedy School, the report - written by Jo Johnson, a former universities minister and the prime minister's brother - says the government must end the "hostile bureaucracy" facing overseas students.Mr Johnson warns that the anticipated 50-75% fall in international students as a result of the coronavirus outbreak would expose “real vulnerabilities” in university finances.He says that for too long universities had been hamstrung by “bureaucracy, obsessions with poorly-crafted immigration targets and petty rules”.“For many years, the top three destinations for international students have been the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. But recently global student mobility has begun to shift,” says the report.

UK education market share declining

“The UK’s market share declined in 17 out of the world’s 21 top-sending countries between 2010 and 2017. By contrast, Australia has now seen steady year-on-year growth of around 14% and might soon catch up with the UK in terms of total overseas numbers if it has not done so already."As a first step, the government needs to recognise the lasting damage that has been done since 2010 by the inclusion of overseas students in the UK's target of annual net migration of under 100,000 and by the welter of Home Office visa restrictions and hostile bureaucratic barriers to study and post-study work that have had the intended effect of deterring applicants."These have done substantial reputational damage that will take continued commitment to reverse."

"Best-in-class student visa offer" plus four-year post-study work visas

To maintain its position as a top destination for international students, Mr Johnson says the UK should offer a “best-in-class student visa offer” and double the length of the recently-reintroduced post-study work visa from two to four years.He also proposes that the UK should rebalance its mix of international students, currently dominated by the Chinese, and aim to double the number of Indian students in the country to 100,000 by 2024.“The UK is in a good position to take market share from the US in India and a further improvement in the post-study work offer would help the sector overcome new concerns about studying in the UK that have arisen in the wake of Covid-19,” says the report.TASIS-education-webinar-in-text-banner-playback“A Tier 4 visa that promises four years of post-study work rights will be of huge advantage to the UK in India, where students are particularly sensitive to this opportunity."International education is one of the UK's few globally competitive sectors. Income from it makes it possible to undertake loss-making research and deliver strategically-important lab and studio-based courses costing more than domestic fees."To secure our post-Brexit future as a knowledge economy and trading nation, we need to go all out to achieve ambitious education export goals."

Greater flexibility on visa requirements and English proficiency testing

Among other recommendations, Mr Johnson calls for greater flexibility on visa requirements and English proficiency testing with the creation of a new, global student mobility network.Reacting to the report, Vivienne Stern, director of Universities UK International, said, "Given current pressures on universities and the difficulties they are likely to face in the short-term given the current pandemic, the recommendations are timely - and a response from government urgent."A spokesman for the Department for Education said: "We are proud that so many international students come to the UK every year to study. The UK's universities thrive on their global reputation as home to some of the very best institutions in the world."Our universities remain open to all international students and we will have a first class offer for students through the introduction of the new graduate route, which will permit university graduates to remain in the UK to work or look for work for two years post-study."

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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