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“International students might be utilizing university courses as cost-effective means to obtain visas”- UK Home Secretary

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International students

UK’s Home Secretary, James Cleverly has expressed concerns that international students might be compromising the integrity and quality of the UK higher education system.

He explained further saying that some international students are utilizing university courses primarily as a cost-effective means to obtain work visas.

In a letter directed to the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), Cleverly requested an investigation into whether the graduate visa entitlement, permitting international students to work post-graduation for two or three years, was failing to attract the most talented individuals to the UK.

On the other hand, university leaders are apprehensive that reducing or limiting the graduate visa pathway could result in a significant decline in international student enrollment and trigger a financial crisis for universities dependent on revenue from international tuition fees.

Cleverly advised the MAC that, while the government wished to attract brilliant students from around the world to study in the UK, it also wanted to ensure that the graduate route was not abused, notably for immigration purposes rather than legitimate educational pursuits.

The home secretary also directed the committee, which provides independent advice to the government, to look into any evidence of abuse of the graduate route, including the route not being fit for purpose and to determine which universities produced graduates who utilized the route.

 

He also asked the MAC to analyse “whether the graduate route is undermining the integrity and quality of the UK higher education system, including understanding how the graduate route is or is not, effectively controlling for the quality of international students, such that it is genuinely supporting the UK to attract and retain the brightest and the best, contributing to economic growth and benefiting British higher education”.

Rachel Hewitt, the chief executive of the MillionPlus group of universities, said the government’s review appeared to be deliberately aimed at undermining the success of British higher education.

The Conservative government reinstated the graduate visa in 2019 to aid UK universities in attracting international students, competing with nations like the US and Australia, which offered more generous post-graduation work visas or pathways to citizenship.

Cleverly cited “early data” indicating that only 23% of international students utilizing the skilled workers route transitioned into graduate-level positions, with just a third securing jobs paying more than £26,000 annually last year.

The committee is slated to deliver its report in May, potentially presenting challenges for the higher education sector. University leaders have labeled student visa restrictions as “an economic act of self-harm” for the UK.

Since the government imposed limitations prohibiting students on taught courses, such as master’s degrees, from bringing their families to the UK, universities have seen a considerable fall in the number of overseas applicants.

Enrollments from international students have drastically decreased this year compared to 2023, falling approximately 40%.

 

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