Jamie Arrowsmith, Universities UK International

Published 14/05/2024

This week, we spent five minutes with Jamie Arrowsmith, who heads up Universities UK International. He spoke to The PIE about the UK Migration Advisory Committee’s rapid review of the Graduate Route, its findings, and what might happen next.

So Jamie, what’s your interpretation of the review’s findings?

The MAC went away and did a huge amount of work in the time that was available. I think the conclusions that [it’s reached] are pretty clear and robust in terms of saying the Government should retain the Graduate Route. From a university perspective, it’s obviously something we agree with, but overall I think it proved there was a really clear case. The challenge we have now is knowing that the MAC doesn’t make policy, the MAC provides advice.

What do you think the government might do in response to these findings?

I think it’s impossible to know what the formal response is going to be… we’ve already seen a range of views, including from within the Conservative party. Jo Johnson has already tweeted in favour of the MAC conclusions, and Neil O’Brien has already written a piece that’s quite critical of the conclusions. There’s clearly going to be an ongoing debate within government about what the response is going to be; I don’t think we can predict what that is going to look like, but our main message would be that government really has to consider these recommendations very, very carefully.

The MAC made it very clear the graduate route has been succeeding – this should actually be good news for the government: they commissioned a review, it says ‘the policy you introduced is doing what you wanted it to do’, and the warning that comes alongside it is that if you reverse the policy or change it significantly, you’re going to cause huge financial problems in the sector. And to address one policy – the immigration policy – without addressing wider funding questions around universities, that would be incredibly bad news not just for universities, but also the community.

The other burning question – when do you think we might get the government’s response to the review?

I think a big political moment is going to be the publication of the net migration figures, which is set to happen on May 23. I’d be very surprised if we didn’t have an announcement or at least some kind of response around that date.

“There’s clearly going to be an ongoing debate within government about what the response is going to be”

The review also recommended a mandatory recruitment agent registration system, building on the work of the Agent Quality Framework. What are your thoughts on this?

We’ve launched this framework some time ago, with partners, because we think it’s a really good idea. It’s currently a voluntary system as the MAC recognises, but we’re absolutely open to the conversation about how that can be changed.

Can you make it more robust? There is already the British Council-run training and certification scheme for agents – if that was to made mandatory, I think there’s questions about you would actually do that, in terms of capacity. I think it’s something we’d be willing to explore with government and we’ve already had conversation about that in the past. We’d need to see the detail on it, but it’s certainly not something we’d oppose.

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