United Kingdom: Study visa restriction danger

EducationWorld February 2023 | International News Magazine

London-based universities and post-92 institutions would be hit hardest if a crackdown on UK international student visas goes ahead. UK is more reliant on international student revenue now than it was the last time there were serious threats to overseas recruitment, during the prime ministership of Theresa May (2016-19). In 2020-21, tuition fees from non-European Union students aggregated about £7 billion (Rs.70,000 crore) to universities, roughly 17 percent of their total income — up from 16 percent the year before, and 13 percent in 2016-17.

Following the openness of Boris Johnson’s government towards international students, his successor Rishi Sunak — and in particular the home secretary, Suella Braverman — have expressed concern about the impact of education visas on overall migration figures. But reports suggest that any clampdown on recruitment could be targeted, restricting international enrolment to ‘elite’ universities only.

Analysis of Higher Education Statistics Agency figures indicates that institutions in the Top 200 of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings draw about a fifth of their income from international students. Should ministers decide to reduce international student numbers, they could follow a pattern they set last year when they introduced a visa scheme for graduates of universities in the Top 50 of major global rankings, and restrict enrolment to only that elite group.

But non-EU students fees are also important for institutions outside the elite. Among post-92 universities, non-EU fees account for about 14 percent of income in 2020-21, up slightly from the year before. And there is significant variation in the proportion of total revenue that UK universities outside the top 200 draw from overseas recruitment. Two private institutions obtain a major share of their income from this source — Regent’s University London and Richmond, the American International University in London. Beyond these, the University of the Arts London received 43.5 percent of its earnings from international students in 2020-21.

“Given that there is little evidence that these students overstay their visas in large numbers, and that international students are not high on the public’s list of concerns as far as immigration matters are concerned, the most straight forward solution would be to remove international students from net migration figures or at least to measure them in a more nuanced way,” says MillionPlus chief executive Rachel Hewitt.

Across all UK institutions, London universities are most reliant on the international market, drawing a quarter of their income from non-EU students. In contrast, such students account for just 9 percent of revenue in Northern Ireland.

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