UK universities struggle to attract international students with unclear visa policies.

UK universities struggle to attract international students with unclear visa policies.
  • May 14, 2024
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In response to concerns that more limits on student visas might sabotage a crucial talent flow for Britain's creative industries, universities are reporting a sharp decline in the number of applications from overseas students seeking to study in the UK.

Academic and business leaders are concerned that, depending on the results of a report by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), which is scheduled to be presented to the government on Tuesday, the graduate visa entitlement—which permits foreign graduates to work in the UK for up to three years—may be eliminated or severely restricted.

The creative industries are represented by Creative UK, which claims that denying overseas students the opportunity to remain and work in the country after graduation would be a strong deterrent to coming here to study, hurting a £108 billion industry annually.

A poll of UK institutions indicates that the restrictions placed earlier this year on international students may have already contributed to a decrease in the number of students applying from abroad, and that the uncertainty surrounding the future of the graduate visa looks to have sparked a further dip.

According to the British Universities' International Liaison Association, a survey of 75 institutions revealed that 27% fewer applications overall for taught postgraduate courses were submitted this year, and nine out of ten reported receiving fewer international applications for the upcoming academic year.

The government is urged to reject plans to abolish or restrict the graduate visa route by Universities UK and Creative UK, which represent vice chancellors. The letter argues that international graduates are essential to the creative industries, which have grown to be more significant than the aerospace, life sciences, and automotive industries combined in the UK.

The letter reads, "The graduate visa represents one of the few remaining pathways that allow talented graduates to remain in the UK and contribute to our booming creative industries, particularly in light of further rises in visa costs and salary requirements." It's evident how our universities draw the best creative talent from around the globe—whether it's a young Jimmy Choo honing his trade at Cordwainers or internationally recognized DJ Peggy Gou, who attended London College of Fashion. This speaks to the soft-power influence of our schools.

"International students are incredibly important to UK culture," stated Sally Mapstone, president of Universities UK and vice chancellor of St Andrews University, in an interview with Sky News on Sunday. They make significant contributions to higher education, the economy, jobs, and skills. Accordingly, we believe it would be tragic and disastrous for UK institutions as well as for the government to take further, needless action to limit the number of international students.

The British Academy informed the MAC that doing away with the graduate visa would “stifle the vibrancy of the UK’s academic and research landscape,” adding that a decline in foreign enrollment would continue to put universities in jeopardy and lead to staff layoffs and course closures.

Since home secretary James Cleverly commissioned the MAC in March to make sure the graduate route isn't being misused, concerns over the future of the visa have been worse. Specifically, the desire for immigration is not the primary driver of part of the demand for study visas.

The graduate visa should be eliminated, according to research released last week by former immigration minister Robert Jenrick and the think tank Centre for Policy Studies. Jenrick claimed the visa allowed people to enter the country and work in the gig economy for pitiful pay.

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