Parliamentary report adds to momentum for UK policy changes

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • A new report from a working group of British parliamentarians calls for additional measures to boost the competitiveness of the UK in international student markets
  • Chief among its recommendations are the establishment of an ambitious growth target for foreign student numbers in the UK and improved post-study work opportunities for foreign graduates

A recently released British parliamentary report calls for a new international strategy to boost the UK’s competitiveness in international student markets. The report, authored by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for International Students and titled A Sustainable Future for International Students in the UK, includes calls for a clear target for international student numbers, an end to the years-long inclusion of international students in net migration targets, and the introduction of a post-study work visa that would allow international students to gain up to two years of work experience in the UK.

The report’s premise is that the UK has “few greater assets than our education system, which delivers prosperity and opportunity across the regions and nations of the UK.” It goes on to note that this asset is in a great deal of jeopardy because of immigration policies designed to create a “hostile environment.”

Momentum building

The report is the latest in a series of analyses and position statements in recent months that all speak to the issue of the UK’s competitiveness in international education markets. It follows a recent analysis conducted by Universities UK estimating that Britain has lost between £8 and £9 billion in education exports over the past five years due to the inclusion of international students in net migration targets and restrictive work rights policies. It also echoes warnings made in a report called Staying Ahead: Are International Students Going Under? published earlier this year by British business and international education leaders. That report emphasises that the UK is fast losing market share to Australia and will lose more if a new, more welcoming strategy isn’t put in place for international students. If current trends persist, Australia will soon displace the UK from the #2 spot among leading study destinations, behind only the US, in terms of the number of foreign students it hosts.

Reset to reverse eight years of restrictive policies

The APPG report notes that between 2012 and 2015, the growth rate of international students in the UK was a paltry 0.7% relative to growth rates in the US (22.5%), Canada (26.9%), and Australia (18%). As we reported earlier this year, the UK’s growth rate over the past two reporting years is lower than the US (3%), France (4.6%), Germany (5.5%), Russia (9%), China (10.5%), Japan (11.6%), Australia (13%), and Canada (20%).

Lord Karan Bilimoria, the APPG’s co-chair, says that “Eight years of prioritising an impossible target using misleading statistics, over our economy and world-leading institutions has left the UK’s position as the second-largest destination for international students in jeopardy.”

Co-chair (and Member of Parliament) Paul Blomfield insists that the UK needs to “press the reset button, establish an ambitious strategy to increase recruitment, put new policies in place, and send out a clear message that international students are welcome in the UK.”

12 recommendations

The report makes 12 recommendations aimed at restoring the UK’s competitiveness in the international education sector. The principal proposals are that:

  •  “A cross-departmental group establishes a clear and ambitious target to grow international student numbers, supported by a cross-departmental strategy and a commitment to remove students from the target to reduce net migration.”
  • “The Government should offer a clearly labelled and attractive post-study work visa which allows up to two years of work experience in the UK.”

With the UK’s planned exit from the European Union in March 2019 fast approaching, the report also calls for the government to try to get an EU deal “for unrestricted movement of students and researchers” and to “provide urgent clarity for EU nationals studying and researching in the UK on what changes they will experience in visa and funding rights.”

The AAPG recognises the key role that non-university education providers play in the overall sector, and its report urges the government to introduce rules that “facilitate and encourage students to study at multiple study levels within the UK education system” and to promote “the diversity of the UK education offer including small, specialist, vocational and further education providers.”

Reflecting the importance of quantifying the value of the British international education sector – which is the UK’s seventh largest export sector, the report recommends that the government “accurately track data on education as an export and as an economic value, including at a national, regional and local level.”

No time like the present

The AAPG report makes the point that the government has announced that it plans to develop a new immigration system as a result of Brexit, and says this “provides a unique opportunity to further demonstrate the contribution that international students make to the UK and to ensure that the new system supports this.”

As of 2015, new international students were estimated by London Economics consultancy to have injected £22 billion into the British economy. The value of international students in Australia is now estimated at more than AUS$30 billion (up by 22% over 2017), while in Canada education exports amount to more than CDN$18 billion with growth of 42% between 2015 and 2017 alone.

AAPG Paul Blomfield adds that “our report offers a way forward for the Government, and a route-map to renewed competitiveness for our world-class universities and colleges” and he “urge[s] Ministers to look carefully at our recommendations and step up to the challenge.”

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