Changes needed to “maximise” UK education exports

Published 20/01/2023

The APPG for International Students has written the UK cabinet urging for changes needed to “truly maximise the potential of the UK’s education exports sector”.

Writing to six Secretaries of State, including education minister Gillian Keegan, home secretary Suella Braverman and chancellor Jeremy Hunt, APPG co-chairs Lord Karan Bilimoria and Paul Blomfield highlighted further cross-departmental engagement and immigration reform that could help.

Leaders should create “a more ambitious and sustainable target” for international student numbers in the UK, they urged.

The Home Office must be included in cross-departmental engagement to “truly make the IES a success”, they stated. UK sector stakeholders have previously raised concerns that the Home Office was ‘pulling in the opposite direction’ on country’s international education agenda.

While the Departments for International Trade and Education collaborate closely, Home Office support is necessary, the letter indicated.

“The Home Office has a key part to play in ensuring that the student visa system remains competitive with other English-speaking markets,” it said.

Streamlining UKVI operations and immigration at borders through digital processes, such as more nationalities being eligible to use e-gates, is essential for the IES, the letter continued.

A new single visa for students joining school or pathway programs, undergraduate and postgraduate study would “reduce the burden of the student immigration system on government and students while creating a more coherent journey for students”.

London Higher has suggested a new single pathway student visa would “incentivise” undergraduate international students to progress more easily to postgraduate qualifications in the capital. UUK has also previously called for costs of visas for researchers to at least be in line with international competitors.

“A sustainable target for growth should include a commitment to diversification”

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy should also play a role in ensuring businesses are aware of the new graduate visa. Just this week, UK stakeholders discussed how to address the problem of lack of awareness of the initiative.

After UK international numbers hit 679,970 in 2021/22, the APPG said a “sustainable target for growth should include a commitment to diversifying the international students who come to the UK, where they come from and what they study”.

There is also the opportunity to “shift focus” to the international student experience – everything from visa application to experience at borders to success during and after study.

Specific changes the group called for included more focus on non-HE education, such as technical studies, FE, the pathway sector, ELT, professional education and independent and boarding schools.

It also reiterated calls to remove international students from net migration figures, arguing that international students should be treated as temporary migrants as the majority “return home following study”.

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