The #WeAreInternational campaign has welcomed a cross-party parliamentary report calling for a major change in the government’s approach to international students.
A report by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on International Students, published today (6 November 2018), makes 12 recommendations to restore the UK’s competitiveness in the international higher education sector – including the introduction of a post-study work visa, which would allow international students a period of up to two years’ work experience in the UK.
The APPG also urges the government to set a clear and ambitious target to increase international student numbers, supported by a commitment to remove students from the target to reduce net migration.
The nationwide #WeAreInternational campaign, which was founded by the University of Sheffield with its Students’ Union, is now supported by 200 universities and business organisations and has long lobbied for a more welcoming environment and visa system for students travelling to the UK from across the world.
The APPG also recommended the government learns from campaigns such as #WeAreInternational and regional initiatives like #LondonIsOpen to ensure messages for international students regarding education in the UK are welcoming, clear, simple and consistent.
Professor Koen Lamberts, Chair of the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKISA), said: “I am proud to be the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield – the university that co-founded the #WeAreInternational campaign and which has spoken with conviction about the benefits of international scholarship to cities and communities across the UK.
“International students make a huge contribution, both academically and economically, and our diverse student population is crucial to the education, research and innovation for which we are known around the world. The measures in this report will enable the UK to recover its falling market share in the international student market, and I wholeheartedly urge the government to take note, in the national interest.”
The APPG report is the latest in a number of studies that have clearly shown the benefits that international students bring to the UK.
Paul Blomfield MP, Co-chair of the International Students APPG, said: “Increasingly restrictive policies and procedures over the last eight years have discouraged many international students from applying to the UK.
“We need 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.
“Our report offers a way forward for the Government, and a route-map to renewed competitiveness for our world-class universities and colleges. I urge Ministers to look carefully at our recommendations and step up to the challenge.”
International Students APPG Co-chair Lord Bilimoria added: “Like most of the population of the UK, I am proud that students from all around the world want to come and study in Britain. But our Government has treated this as a problem.
“This damages our relationships around the world and hurts our universities and local economies. It’s time for a fresh start.”
Following the publication of the report, the APPG will work to champion its recommendations within Parliament – including during the passage of the upcoming Immigration Bill.
Recommendations for government
- The APPG recommends 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.
- The Government should pursue an EU deal for unrestricted movement of students and researchers, as part of a close relationship with European universities and provide urgent clarity for EU nationals studying and researching in the UK on what changes they will experience in visa and funding rights.
- Immigration rules should facilitate and encourage students to study in the UK and at multiple study levels within the UK education system.
- The Government should promote and protect the diversity of the UK education offer including small, specialist, vocational and further education providers within the proposed recruitment strategy.
- The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration should conduct an independent review of credibility interviews within the student immigration system to ensure the system is fit for purpose, cost-effective relative to current risk and does not limit the diversity of international students in the UK.
- The UK Government should work closely with devolved and regional governments to support growth in international student numbers, protect local courses and institutions which are dependent on international students, and support regional and national initiatives which enhance the benefit of international education such as work experience schemes and industry engagement.
- The Government should accurately track data on education as an export and as an economic value, including at a national, regional and local level. Government should include education in their trade strategy when approaching bi-lateral agreements.
Recommendations for universities, colleges and schools
- Education institutions should share best practice across the education sector to enhance internationalisation strategies through maximising the advantages and benefits of having a diverse body of international students, as well as support more UK students to study abroad.
Recommendations for cooperation
- Messages for international students regarding the UK should be welcoming, clear, simple and consistent. These should be developed in cooperation between the government and the education sector.
- The UK should establish an international graduate and alumni strategy which would support international students for employment opportunities in their home country to boost UK soft power, research and trade and support greater engagement with alumni by universities, business and government. Activities to track the long-term employment destination of international graduates should be intensified.
- Education institutions, local government and local business should come together to attract, plan for, support and integrate international students in the local community.