• Thursday, April 18, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Lamentations in UK as international students number drop on strict student visa rule

Lamentations in UK as international students number drop on strict student visa rule

Officials in UK universities worry about the economic fallout from a sharp decline in international student enrollments due to strict immigration policies.

David Pilsbury, Chief Development Officer at the Oxford International Education Group, cautions that the decline in international student enrollment, known for higher fees, will significantly impact targeted universities.

“For some recruiting universities, the January intake had become as big as they used to recruit in September – so they will be really hurt by the sharp fall in numbers from key markets like Nigeria and India this January” ” he said to University World News.

“I know that a number of universities that didn’t hit their September targets just added the difference to the January target. So this is a serious hit for many U.K. universities,” Pilsbury highlighted.

A survey by Universities UK (UUK), comprising more than 60 UK universities, reveals a 33% decline in study visas issued in January compared to the previous year.

An additional UUK survey involving 73 universities indicates a 44% decrease in postgraduate-taught course enrollment.

The drop is tied to uncertainties about UK post-study work options and the government’s heightened scrutiny of rising international student numbers post-pandemic.

Enroly, a digital platform supporting 60+ UK universities, notes a 37% dip in international offers for UK postgraduate courses this January, UK government statistics indicate a 5% year-on-year drop in sponsored study visas for main applicants in 2023.

Last year, the U.K. announced a plan to curb net migration by preventing international students from bringing family members with them while studying in the U.K., unless they are studying in postgraduate research courses, such as research-based PhDs and research-based master’s programs.

Under the new policy effective in January, international postgraduate students in non-research courses are not allowed to bring dependents.

In 2022, the UK Home Office reported issuing nearly half a million student visas, with the number of dependents of overseas students surging by 750% since 2019 to reach 136,000 individuals.

“The U.K. is extremely fortunate to be a popular destination for international students. The whole country benefits from their decision to spend a few formative years with us. I regret the fact the government appears to want to diminish our success in this area. Our new data shows that if they wanted to see a reduction in numbers, they have already achieved that through policy changes introduced earlier this year.” commented the chief executive of UUK, Vivienne Stern,

“If they go further, they will damage the economies of towns and cities throughout the U.K., as well as many universities. Given we should be doing everything we can to promote economic growth, this seems to be getting the priorities wrong,” she said.

“The number of international students coming to the U.K. is already falling, but there is now a real danger of an over-correction.”

UUK states student interest is waning due to uncertainties surrounding the UK’s post-study work opportunities. The government’s announcement of a review by the Migration Observatory Committee on the Graduate Route, which allows international students to stay in the UK for at least two years after course completion, has contributed to this hesitation.

The Graduate Route permits graduates to work or seek employment at any skill level without the need for a sponsored employer, lasting for two years or three years for doctoral students.

Comprising almost half of enrollees in U.K. universities’ taught programs, international students contribute an average of £17,000 annually in tuition fees, playing a vital role in the financial well-being of these institutions.

A substantial decline in international enrollments poses potential economic challenges for various courses and universities.

Between 2019/20 and 2023/24, the Graduate Route, supported by the U.K.’s International Education Strategy, brought in 632,000 additional international first-year enrollments and contributed £62.6 billion to the U.K. economy.

Published in January, the report “Under the spotlight: Changes to immigration rules will harm U.K. innovation” by the National Center for Universities and Business highlights that international students contribute an additional £41.9 billion to the U.K. economy.

The Migration Observatory Committee, in its September 2018 report on the “Impact of international students in the U.K.,” shows the economic benefit of international students and their significance as an important export market, citing the Department for Education’s estimate of their export value at £17.6 billion in 2015.

UUK’s chief Stern said, “We call on all political parties in the run-up to a general election to reassure prospective international students that the U.K. remains open, and the Graduate visa here to stay. Any further knee-jerk reforms could have serious consequences for jobs across the country, economic growth, and UK higher education institutions,”

UUK urges political leaders to reassure international students about the permanence of the graduate visa scheme, emphasizing the potential adverse effects of abrupt policy changes on employment, economic growth, and the higher education sector.

“The downturn in January 2024 signals the impact of U.K. policy on recruitment volumes, underscoring the industry’s sensitivity to political and economic factors,” said Jeff Williams, Enroly’s chief executive, reported by the Guardian

John Foster, the head of policy and campaigns at the Confederation of Business Industry (CBI), the prominent business group in the UK, notes that the mere prospect of stricter work rights is already impacting demand.

“Uncertainty surrounding whether the government will change or withdraw the graduate visa [is] already damaging U.K. universities’ competitiveness,” said Foster reported by ICEF Monitor

A study titled ‘The Voice of the International Student,’ conducted in January by IDP Education across 67 countries with 2,500 student respondents, has shown that almost half (49%) of potential students are reconsidering or uncertain about their plans to study in the UK