“Maintain rise” in international student numbers – UUK manifesto

Published 23/02/2024

The next UK government should work more closely with universities to achieve economic growth and maintain the managed rise of international student numbers, according to the body representing 142 institutions across the country.

Universities UK unveiled its manifesto on February 23, urging the incoming government to recognise the contribution that universities make to improving the economy and creating opportunities that matter to voters of all political parties.

“From boosting the health workforce, to bringing wealth to towns and cities around the UK, Universities UK’s manifesto aims to show what universities can do for the country, with the right action from university leaders and from the next government,” said Vivienne Stern MBE, chief executive of UUK.

Rishi Sunak said he had expected to call the election “in the second half of 2024” but it is possible it could be held in May.

UUK called on the government to commit to maintaining the Graduate Route, which grants international graduates the right to stay in the UK for two years after completing their courses to gain experience in the workforce.

In December 2023, the UK home secretary James Cleverly announced that the government will review the Graduate Route to “prevent abuse” and “protect the integrity and quality of the UK’s outstanding higher education sector”.

“The government is trailing significantly in the polls… so anything that can be framed as a wedge issue is going to have political salience, and immigration has emerged as one of the key issues to divide voters,” Jamie Arrowsmith, director of UUKi told the SUIG conference at the University of Strathclyde in February.

The government’s “knee-jerk” decision to review the Graduate route in response to high net migration has caused “significant uncertainty” for prospective students and institutions which undermines the competitiveness of the UK as a study destination,” Arrowsmith said.

Labour has not said anything about its plans for the Graduate route, which has raised concerns that if the Conservative government were to scale it back, an incoming Labour government under pressure on net migration may not reverse such measures.

International students make a net economic contribution of more than £40 billion a year to the UK economy. The government’s commitment to stabilise and manage growth in overseas students will guarantee the country continues to benefit from their impact, according to the organisation.

“Immigration has emerged as one of the key issues to divide voters”

UUK’s manifesto also called on the government to treat research and development as “long term capital investment through 10 year funding cycles”, and to ensure universities are adequately funded to provide high quality teaching.

Currently, only 80% of government-sponsored research is funded by the government, with the remaining 20% coming from teaching income and other resources. In 2021, the higher education sector spent £5.6bn of its own money on research and development.

Other manifesto recommendations included reinstating maintenance grants for those who need them most and supporting the development of partnerships that provide opportunities for local communities.

In 2021-22 the UK’s higher education sector supported over a quarter of a million jobs and contributed more than £130bn to the economy.

The next government should also provide more support to universities to work with businesses and start-ups through place-based innovation funding to deliver local economic growth opportunities, according to UUK.

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