The UK post-study work visa should be fast-tracked into law and extended by six months in order for the country to maintain its competitive edge in the international student market, the government is being urged.
Representing 24 UK universities, the Russell Group is calling for continued student visa reform and a joint international marketing campaign to promote study in the country.
Universities UK International has called for an increased budget for the country’s ‘Study UK‘ marketing campaign. Investment should be raised from the current £6 million to £20 million, director Vivienne Stern has suggested.
The country’s two-year PSW visa should be passed through emergency immigration rules immediately, while the government should consider extending the visa to a total of 30 months, the Russell Group said.
Additionally, international students should be able to apply for visas six months before in-person courses begin – rather than the usual three – and compliance policies should be reviewed to ensure students “feel welcome”.
Concessions for disruptions caused by Covid-19 such as fee waivers for those forced to extend visas should be extended, the group has stated.
“International students bring many benefits to the UK, but as the world recovers from the Covid-19 crisis, we have to expect numbers will fall for a while and that competition from other countries will be even more fierce than usual,” the chief executive of the Russell Group, Tim Bradshaw said.
“With more top universities than any country other than the US, the UK has an advantage but we must maintain that and protect our hard-won reputation as one of the best places globally to study for a degree,” he added.
Bringing forward the work visa would be “really helpful” in order for universities to promote it, according to UUKi’s Stern.
However, the “most pressing issue” is getting the visa system working correctly as a matter of urgency.
“We need to do everything we can to get the government to be creative and to put in place flexible and responsive arrangements,” she told The PIE News.
“If you think about how universities went from nothing to teaching everybody online, I would like the Home Office to approach this crisis with the same spirit of enterprise.”
Despite, the Home Office applying for automatic visa extensions and introducing self-assessment of English qualifications for universities efficiently, applicants still face a barrier when applying for visas, Stern indicated.
“We want to get that message out that the UK is open for business. It’s very hard to do that if the visa system closed,” she said.
Bradshaw agreed, saying that the government has shown determination by announcing the new two-year PSW visa.
“Now is the time to build on this progress,” he said. “Further action to streamline the immigration process, alongside an ambitious campaign to show the UK’s doors are open will be crucial to helping the country bounce back.”
Canada recently announced flexible post-grad work rules, and “we need to be out there saying the same”, Stern explained.
The Russell Group added that universities, the British Council, the Department for Education and the Department for International Trade should target key countries to show the UK is an attractive destination for study, work and investment, and protect Britain’s ‘hard won’ reputation as a leader in higher education.
Along with the increasing investment in the UK’s national Study UK campaign, Stern noted that the UK sector should strive to make scholarship funding more visible, easier to find, and create new scholarships to “incentivize international students in the coming year”.
“We’ve got to get on the front foot with our communications,” Stern said. “But we need the government to kind of weigh in behind us.”
The #WeAreTogether campaign, launched in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, is being supported by the British Council, the government, sector bodies including UKCISA and BUILA, and promoted across commercial organizations including Studyportals, IDP, QS, the Student Room and UCAS, she added.
“We’re working to get the stories told by current international students about how they are experiencing this period out there,” she continued.
“For those people who are keen to come to the UK, but are worried about health, safety, welfare, we want current international students to be able to tell prospective students how [they are] being looked after.”
The Office for Students has warned institutions that students should know “in broad terms” what they’ll be getting in the autumn intake, and Stern added that universities should indicate what they are planning, as well as their contingency plans.
“Universities’ communication directly with applicants is important…The top message to prospective international students is if you’re thinking about studying in the UK, get in touch with the institutions that you’re interested in.
“Make sure you’re signed up for their updates… and you will find out sooner than anybody else, how they’re going to adapt to these circumstances,” she said.
The Russell Group also added that the UK must work with other governments – that do not recognize international degrees with significant elements of online learning – to agree on reciprocal recognition agreements.
The Home Office is aware the coronavirus outbreak may prevent international students from coming to the UK at this time, which is why it has permitted distance learning, a spokesperson told The PIE.
“The situation is being kept under review and nobody will be penalized for circumstances outside of their control,” the spokesperson added.
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