UK universities at risk as international student numbers plunge

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Posted on May 15, 2024


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Tanongsak Mahakusol

On Tuesday, a government-commissioned assessment warned that if Britain continues to restrict the number of international students it accepts, some universities may fail. The warning came as foreign registrations for the upcoming academic year fell precipitously.

The political debate in Britain has long been dominated by high levels of legal migration, which served as a primary catalyst for the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government has worked to cut back on care workers and low-paid employees as well as the amount of students entering the country by prohibiting certain post-graduate students from bringing family members.

The number of foreign postgraduate students paying deposits to study at British universities in September decreased by 63% from the previous year, according to the Migration Advisory Committee, an independent body that provides advice to the government. This decline was caused by the government placing restrictions on education visas.

Further limitations on the so-called graduate route, which permits international students to work in the UK for up to two years following graduation, were projected to result in job losses, course closures, and a possibility that “some institutions would fail,” according to the research.

Britain is home to some of the world’s most renowned and coveted universities, including Imperial College London, Oxford, and Cambridge. Given that a large number of international leaders attended British universities, business leaders contend that they foster innovation, stimulate creativity, and offer a type of soft power.

The review was commissioned by the government due to concerns regarding the potential exploitation of the graduate visa route. Politicians in Britain have expressed dissatisfaction with students obtaining visas and then claiming asylum or overstaying their visas.

On Monday, Sunak’s cabinet minister Esther McVey claimed that certain British colleges were “selling immigration to international students rather than education.” According to a Sunak official, the government will review the findings and take appropriate action. However, the spokesman drew attention to the scheme’s shortcomings, noting out that over 40% of overseas students who took this route were either unemployed or made less than 15,000 pounds ($18,834) per year after graduation.

The Migration Advisory Committee concluded that there was no proof of pervasive mistreatment pertaining to the graduate route in particular. Seventy percent of graduate visas are issued to students from four countries: China, Pakistan, Nigeria, and India.

The Migration Advisory Committee declared the system was not being exploited, and the British business lobby organization CBI claimed that British universities were among the nation’s greatest export successes. According to CBI, “it’s time to put its future beyond doubt and end this period of damaging speculation.”