Cuts to International Student Numbers Opposed by UK Student Secretary
|15 February, 2023
Gillian Keegan, the UK Secretary of State for education, has strongly supported international students and the wider sector with reports circulating that she will be opposing any potential cuts to the number of international students made by the Home Office.
In an interview with The Financial Times, Keegan said, “It’s a sector we should be very proud of,” She went on to say, “It’s world-leading, a great advert to our country.”
She also told the publication about her plans to build on the UK’s export market in university education as well as expand education export revenues to go from about £26bn to £35bn by the year 2030.
“We have a strategy which is very much focused on growing the revenue,” said Keegan.
The comments made by Keegan came amidst reports that Suella Braverman, the home secretary, will propose a reduction in the period of time during which international students can stay and work in the UK after graduation. The proposed reduction is said to be from two years to six months, which is a move that has already been opposed by the Department of Education.
Ian Crichton, CEO of Study Group, validated Keegan’s expression of support and went on to call it “significant”.
“After a period of unhelpful uncertainty driven by political concerns around immigration statistics, she has made absolutely clear that – while she will work with the home secretary to address any abuses – international education is a public good and an area of vital opportunity for the UK in future,” said Crichton.
“This is an important signal from a senior member of the cabinet which is also understood and supported by many other parts of government.” He added.
The Financial Time reported that Keegan and Braverman have apparently met last week to discuss the number of international students and the students’ ability to bring dependants to the UK, especially if they’re taking “low-value” courses.
Back in the November of 2022, concerns from UK university stakeholders about their ability to support and provide for international students and their families were reported after the rising number of dependants.
The dangers of describing university courses as “low-value” were brought to light by Crichton, who went on to highlight the fact that all courses are designed to meet certain quality standards put in place by the regulator.
“I studied History at Aberdeen but it would be absolutely wrong to compare a technical or professionally-oriented qualification from a modern university as less valuable because of initial graduate salary levels,” said Crichton.
Crichton, just like many others in the sector before him, also brought forward the reminder that only postgraduate students are entitled to bring dependants.
“We ought to consider who and what we might lose before we consider policy changes, no matter how headline-grabbing,” he said.
Crichton stated that if a globally competitive education system and post-study work opportunities were offered, it would be vital to both a thriving society and economic growth with possible connections that will promptly help the UK “play a significant role in identifying the shared solutions which will be needed to build a sustainable, prosperous and peaceful society”.
“If we miss that chance we will neglect one of our most important assets and opportunities for our country,” he said.
Keegan’s agreement to help the Home Office in its efforts to hone in on any abuse in the system was reported. She also told the publication about her aims of ensuring both British and international students receive a high-quality course.
The Times was recently told by the Home Office that Indian students are taking advantage of a certain loophole in the asylum rules that allows asylum seekers to study in the UK while paying the domestic fees instead of the higher international fees.
The publication also reported that about 250 Indian migrants have crossed the channel in small boats this year, which is around a fifth of the 1,180 that have crossed this year in total.
Lord Karan Bilimoria, parliamentarian and chancellor of the University of Birmingham, has meanwhile asked for reassurance in parliament that after hitting the UK’s target of 600,000 international students, there will be no further reductions to international student numbers.
He also asked, on February 10, for confirmation that the two-year work visa will not be reduced, but rather retained. He went on to express his concerns regarding how international student figures are collated.
“Why does the government continue to include international students within net migration figures? They should be excluded as our competitor countries do,” said Bilimoria.
“It is vital that international education isn’t treated as a political football,” said Crichton.
“It’s far too important for that both for the country and our place in the world. We need to remember that welcoming the talented young people who study with us and become a pipeline of skills and knowledge creation in our world-class universities is a privilege we can’t take for granted.” He continued.
“Our points-based system is designed to be flexible according to the UK’s needs – including attracting top-class talent from across the world to contribute to the UK’s excellent academic reputation and to help keep our universities competitive on the world stage,” A government spokesperson said.
“We keep all our immigration policies under constant review to ensure they best serve the country and reflect the public’s priorities.” They continued.