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Staying Ahead: are international students going down under?

Staying Ahead: are international students going down under?

While the UK has for many decades ranked in clear second place next to the USA for popularity of international HE provision, other countries are putting policies into practice that are attracting a much larger share of mobile students.

[Download the podcast for an audio guide to the key issues in this report.]

This inquiry seeks to support the Government’s ambition by identifying how HE could be grown to deliver the  2020 target.

In order to build a resilient economy and to develop our soft power and diplomacy the Government needs urgently to develop joined-up policies to actively promote the HE sector.The time feels right politically and in terms of the mood of the nation to remove students from migration numbers and simplify the visa process.

UK higher education (HE) enjoys a world-class reputation that isenvied by our competitors. It is the fifth largest service industry in the UK, with universities providing some of the nation’s most valuable assets, driving prosperity and a strong economy at home.Universities promote Britain’s interests across the globe, contributing to our soft power and diplomacy through helping develop the higher education infrastructure and intellectual capacity in other nations. Unfortunately, government policy has failed to exploit the opportunity offered by the quality of our universities. Our place inthe global market place is currently very fragile, with intense competition providing globally mobile students with an abundance ofchoice. Changes in the UK visa regime have been particularly harmful in turning growth into stagnation. 

The Higher Education Commission is passionate about the health of the higher education sector and developing the financial value and soft power benefits of its international work at home and abroad. We want the Government to achieve its ambition of boosting the value of international higher education to £30billion by 2020, but this will not be easy given the continued ambiguity around the welcome given to international students and migration targets. This report therefore seeks to assess the best routes to achieve growth including what the Government needs to do to support the HE sector. 

Conservative Peer Lord Norton, who co-Chaired the commission inquiry, said:

“With the UK falling behind in the global market and with Brexit on the horizon, now is the time to remove students from migration numbers, simplify the visa process and look to invest in new markets of students beyond China. If we delay or prevaricate, Australia will cement their lead and the UK will be relegated from the top tier of international higher education.”

Professor Simon Marginson, Director of the ESRC/OFSRE Centre for Global Higher Education, co-Chair of the Commission inquiry, said:

“The export market is supply regulated as well as demand driven. By blocking growth in many universities, stepping up surveillance of bona fide students, and restricting post-study work opportunities the UK has not only held international student numbers in a flat-line position - it has sent a strong message to the world that more students are simply not welcome here.

“The restriction of supply in turn has choked off demand as students head for countries like Australia and Canada where the door is wide open. The UK retains its reputation as a high quality education country and can turn it around, but only if a clear message is given of the UK welcoming students and a balanced policy on international education is restored.”