Author: VIDYA RAM
LONDON, SEPTEMBER 11
The British government’s advisory body on immigration has called for a change to the regime for international students, including reforming the ways students access the UK job market.
However, it has stopped short of advocating a post-study work visa, as many have been pushing for, or removing students from the government’s net migration figures, which has also become a focal point for campaigners.
“There is no doubt that international students offer positive economic benefit, including cross-subsidising the education of domestic students and research,” concludes the report by the Migration Advisory Committee published on Tuesday. This warns that in leaving the EU, the British higher education sector faces new challenges, and that there is a “real risk” of Britain being overtaken by Australia as the second largest international student market in the world after the US.
The report calls for a more generous post-study work regime including PhD students being given one year to remain in the UK, and graduates from British higher education institutions having easier access to tier-II jobs for two years after completing their course, even if they leave the UK.
However, the MAC rejected the call from campaigners, including the universities body, Universities UK, for a separate post- study work-visa.
“The earnings of some graduates who remain in the UK seem surprisingly low and it is likely that those who would benefit form a longer period to find a graduate-level job are not the most highly- skilled,” the report says.
This, it added, could result in a demand for degrees becoming based not on the long- term value but because of the temporary right to work. “Demand for UK education should not be based on work rights…”
Last week, Universities UK called on the government to bring in a revamped post-study work visa. This visa, which enabled students from outside the EU to work in the country for up to two years after completing their degree, was scrapped in 2012. Under the current system, students have four months to find work through a tier-II sponsor visa or be accepted under the government’s entrepreneur scheme.
The report acknowledged the current post-study work visa regime had contributed to the sharp decline in Indian students.
Britain’s share of Indian students has fallen 11 per cent since 2010.
However, the report also pointed to the ending of sponsor licences for some institutions and the “adverse coverage” in the Indian press, which had led to “negative messaging.”
The report was “hugely anticipated but largely disappointed,” said Sanam Arora, chair of the National Indian Students and Alumni Union UK, who described their recommendations as the “absolute minimum” to be done by the government. She pointed in particular to the report’s criticism of the government’s net migration target, while recommending that students remain within it, and the failure to recommend a post-study work visa.
“The entire education sector, business community and prospective students — read, consumers of British services — are going to be extremely disappointed. The consumer will flock elsewhere — as is more than obvious through the circa 60 per cent fall in absolute numbers of Indian students recently, at a time when their overall numbers going abroad are rising.”
“While the report recognises the enormous contribution international students make to life in the UK, we are disappointed with its main recommendations,” said Janet Beer of Universities UK, who noted that international students had a “very high rate of compliance” with the requirements of their visa, and left after their period of study.
Britain’s approach to international students — and contention that many over stay their visa — has been a long-running source of tension in bilateral relations with India.
Earlier this year, tensions on the issue mounted as Britain excluded India from a relaxation of visa documentation requirements accorded to a number of countries including China. Britain insisted this was a “routine review” of risk profiles of countries.