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Expert Comment: UK overseas student numbers falling

Overseas students Monday 3 December 2012

International Recruitment Manager Victoria Wilson on the reported fall in numbers of overseas students applying to study at UK universities.

To add some context to the recent Guardian article by Alan Travis, there have been a number of restrictions placed on student immigration procedures over the last 18 months which have directly affected the attractiveness of the UK as a place to study.  We have seen working hours during term-time restricted, the Post-Study Work route removed and a clampdown on the number of Tier 4 visas issued.

The impact of this has been felt most keenly through the reduction of University application numbers to the UK from India.  However, there has also been a significant reduction in applications from the rest of the world. Caught up in a political battle to halve the level of net immigration to the UK by 2015, international students are a key target for immigration restrictions and have subsequently become the undeserving victims of ill-conceived government policy and its rushed implementation. It is even more galling that recent research shows that public concern about immigration does not extend to international students, the vast majority of whom leave the UK on completion of their course.

For international students the ability to work both during and after completing their period of study has been critical in choosing the UK as a desirable destination - and necessary for their ability to afford to study in the UK.  By limiting the working opportunities open to international students we are directly penalising those who are financially disadvantaged. It does not correlate that students able to afford to study without engaging in some form of work are necessarily the “brightest and best”. Nor is it difficult to understand why precious work-experience would be an important consideration for overseas students wanting to progress quickly and more easily up the career ladder in their home country. In particular, Australia and Canada recognise this and are attracting an increasing number of overseas students many of whom would have traditionally studied in the UK.

A National Union of Students survey carried out earlier in 2012 following the changes in immigration policy found that 40% of international students would not now recommend the UK as a destination for study and that an increasing number of international students now feel unwelcome in the UK. Considering that the majority of international students contribute significantly to the UK economy whilst studying in-country, help create new jobs within the education sector and local community and cement our global connections, especially in terms of trade and industry, the international reputational damage that these new policy changes have brought about extend further than simply the education sector. 

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