A perfect storm is massing against British universities
“This tempest massing against British universities will create financial damage and reduce the UK soft power in the world”
A leaked document putting forward proposals for more stringent controls on workers and students from the EU has dashed hopes that the UK government might be considering a more liberal approach to international student visas. Aldwyn Cooper, vice chancellor at Regent’s University London, says the higher education sector is already at breaking point.
The latest proposal by the government in a leaked document – stating that the Home Office wants to introduce a crackdown on overseas students from the European Union following Brexit – is another example of what appears to be the systematic demolition of the attraction, stability and international reputation of UK higher education.
Taking such a position at a time when studies have demonstrated that only about 3% of international overseas students stay on illegally merely adds to the increasing weight being felt by a crackdown on EU workers’ rights and the freedom to bring family members into the UK, making our country less attractive internationally.
British universities have always been considered the global gold standard for quality but Brexit, in combination with government cut backs, immigration policy, a changing 18-year-old demographic and the Higher Education and Research Bill, has created a ‘perfect storm’ for the sector.
“New border exit check data demolished the myth that a large proportion of overseas students stay on illegally”
The changes to the regulations for gaining degree awarding powers and reduced quality oversight of the system are already causing concerns globally about the future reliability of UK awards. International student numbers are already falling, with potential students looking elsewhere. Meanwhile, the brightest young academics are refusing research roles in the UK because such jobs may be detrimental to their futures.
This tempest massing against British universities will create financial damage and reduce the UK soft power in the world. It is a disastrous position being caused by political philosophy and expedience, and is not based on rational analysis of now and the future.
At the same time, the home secretary, Amber Rudd, has at last recognised that overseas students make a major contribution to the UK economy and the labour market. But the disclosure of the Home Office document will dash hopes that the government was considering a more liberal approach to overseas students raised when Rudd announced an independent study of the contribution overseas students make to the economy and the labour market last month.
As the study was announced, Home Office research based on new border exit check data demolished the myth that a large proportion of overseas students stay on illegally after the end of their courses. The report showed that 97% of students left the country when their visas expired.
But as leaders and supporters of the UK international education sector encourage blue sky thinking on post-Brexit international education, leaks and apparent government disunity continue to add pressure to a storm that shows little sign of abating any time soon.