UKCISA calls for more evidence-informed policies

Published 10/04/2024

Sustainable growth in international education in the UK will not be possible if the government does not “commit to a suite of evidence-informed policies” to allow for an equitable and inclusive sector, a new paper has said.

The recommendations from the UK’s national advisory body on international students, UKCISA, say that language used in government policy and campaigns needs to be “positive” and “acknowledge the strength and contributions of international students and their dependants to their communities”.

UKCISA says policy changes, including on the family allowance for postgraduate taught students, increases in immigration fees and the Immigration Health Surcharge, the Graduate route visa review, as well as changes to the skill worker salary threshold, deter prospective students.

It called on the government to enhance data by coordinating collection across departments to build a comprehensive evidence base to “enhance national and regional policymaking and resource planning”.

“Now is the time for UK policymakers to commit to a suite of evidence-informed policies that promote international study mobility and celebrate the UK education sector’s position as a leader in international education,” said Anne Marie Graham, chief executive of UKCISA.

To make immigration policies fair and equitable for international students, UKCISA said that government should introduce a transparent funding model for visas and fees and allow international students to study remote and hybrid courses without impacting immigration statuses.

The central data collection model should also study international graduate outcomes more closely, as well as improve the response rates from graduates working outside the UK to “inform careers advice for current students and marketing strategies for prospective students”.

In 2022, the Higher Education Statistics Agency said it would stop surveying international graduates by telephone – a move criticised by UK stakeholders.

Not only should the UK Graduate route be retained by government as an “essential part of the UK’s post-study work offer”, but employers should have clear communication of all post-study work routes through government channels.

“[Future strategy] must be developed across all relevant departments, including the Home Office”

Working rights for international students in higher education should be standardised at 20 hours per week during their studies, the document added.

Overall the recommendations “aim to ensure that the UK’s global image remains positive and welcoming to international students and supports the continued success of the whole education sector”, UKCISA added.

The UK’s international education policies impact other areas, including the economy, labour market and public services meaning that future strategy “must be developed across all relevant departments, including the Home Office”, the report reads.

Sector leaders have previously warned that policy coming from the Home Office has been detrimental to the international education sector.

“To maintain its status as a leading global study destination – attracting talented, ambitious international students – the UK must ensure that opportunity does not discriminate on the basis of background, level of
study, or provider location,” it said.

International students should benefit from new pedagogical developments, including remote delivery, but most importantly policy should “provide equal access to careers and employability opportunities and include a renewed commitment to our post-study work offer to enable our international graduates to build on their academic experience in the workplace”.

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