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International students turn from UK amid tighter visa restrictions

ByGavin Dewar

Sep 23, 2015
Image courtesy of Sarel Jansen

A major survey has highlighted the increasing number of international students actively rejecting UK universities, identifying harsh post-study work options as the main reason.

The Hobsons International Student Survey found that 32 per cent of the 45,000 prospective international students questioned had decided to study elsewhere after looking at, or applying to, a UK university.

This comes as the University of Edinburgh launches a major social media campaign designed to attract overseas students to the Scottish capital.

The Hobsons survey found that 36 per cent of the students who had turned their back on the UK did so because of post-study work options. 31 per cent identified job prospects as the main issue, while 29 per cent cited the chances of finding a permanent post-study residency. 22.5 per cent, meanwhile, indicated that the UK’s attitude to international students was their main concern.

Around one third of the students who rejected the UK chose instead to study at other European Union countries with more liberal post-study work policies. Germany was the most appealing EU country to many of these students.

The Hobsons Survery highlighted the UK’s disadvantages in a European context, saying: “Germany famously operates a very liberal ‘post-study work’ regime – automatically allowing graduates to live and work in Germany for 18 months after graduation. Other EU countries are actively mimicking the German approach, with France this year signing a bilateral deal with India – for example – to provide two-year post-study work visas for international students who graduate.

“The UK Government controversially abolished similar schemes in 2012 [at the orders of home secretary Theresa May] and the difficulty of acquiring work experience in a host country is likely to be a contributing factor to the relative decline in the UK’s popularity as a place to study.”

The Convenor of the Economic Committee at the City of Edinburgh Council, Councillor Frank Ross, was one of many public officials to express concern at the findings, saying: “Students are extremely valuable to Edinburgh’s economy and contribute around £7 billion per year to the wider UK economy.

“They also create a strong graduate talent pool in the capital, attracting world-leading organisations and businesses to Edinburgh such as Amazon, Skyscanner and FanDuel.

“Currently there is a real buzz in the technology industry in Edinburgh, which greatly benefits from the talented students who graduate every year.”

The Student spoke to Euan Fergusson, Head of International Student Support at the University of Edinburgh, about the situation.

Asked about how new visa restrictions are affecting the University, Fergusson replied: “It happens every year. They’ve sort of changed the rules and forced students to use them midway through the process. So this year we had the new changes to the Immigration Health Surcharge, and that came in the beginning of July. There were some people caught up in that particular changeover, from a manual process to one which was already part of the visa application process. So that’s been a bit complicated.”

He continued: “We’ve gone from having several different possibilities [to stay after graduation], to having just one, which is doing your PhD. We’re really actively involved in things like the Migration Advisory Council, impressing on them the importance to make sure there’s still concessions on the rules for students and graduates.”

Regarding the difficulties facing the University’s International Office, Fergusson told The Student: “I think it’s quite clear that there’s a government policy agenda behind it. I think they’re making the arguments and so on, but I think it’s clear the way it’s coming across that this is coming right from the top.”


Image: UK home secretary Theresa May was identified by Lib Dem former business secretary Vince Cable as the main person responsible behind strict post-study visa laws. In his book, Cable recalls being “struck by the inability of powerful Conservatives like the chancellor, or even the prime minister, to move the home secretary an inch.”

Image credit: Sarel Jansen

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