Responding to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the Russell Group, which represents twenty-four leading universities in the UK, have noticed a steep decline in the number of international students applying in 2020. They have called on the UK Home Secretary to implement a series of reforms which will ensure that the UK continues to be an attractive destination for international students.
The statement provided by the Russel Group reminds us that Britain has for generations been home to many prestigious universities. In terms of top-ranking universities, Britain is second only to the United States. The Russel Group is determined to maintain this legacy.
It is worth remembering that world leaders from Mahatma Gandhi to John Atta and Bill Clinton were all educated in the UK at British universities.
A three point-plan
Russell Group universities are calling for a three-pronged policy to ensure that Britain remains an attractive destination for international students.
This includes extending visa lengths, reviewing compliance policies, and extending concessions for unforeseen COVID-19 related issues.
With respect to the current visa policy, students are permitted to enter the UK 3 months before their study and are permitted 24 months during their course. This limited stay has been a source of frustration for many international students. Instead, the Russel Group proposes extending this leave to a 6-month leave before their course starts and 30 months in the country.
This policy is complemented by the government’s current post-study visa plan which enables international students to stay in the UK for a further two-years. The Russel Group is calling for this plan to be implemented into the law, recognising it as a great first step.
Reviewing compliance policies
The reform the Russel Group is urging is for a review of compliance policies. They state that this is essential to ensure that foreign students feel welcome and that the burden on them is not too heavy.
The final part of their policy is a demand that the concessions granted for COVID related issues be extended.
For many international students, the pandemic continues to be a difficult and uncertain time. The Home Office has supported applicants by granting automatic visa extensions as well as self-assessments of English qualifications. However, there continues to be significant difficulties for international students, particularly with the closure of visa offices across the country.
With these offices slowly reopening, the Russell Group requests that the concessions granted to international students continue.
There have been calls to not only reform the government’s immigration system but to also amending university funding.
An organisation known as the “Universities UK International” has requested that the current funding for the “Study UK” project, which aims to raise awareness of the benefits of a UK degree, be increased. They are asking for funding to increase from its current level of £6 million to £20 million.
The UK Department of Education as well as the International Trade Department and the British council, are currently involved in a global campaign targeted towards China and India which aims to highlight the benefits of studying in the UK.
There is also a push for recognising online courses as currently many countries do not recognise online international degrees that operate online. This is particularly odd in light of the coronavirus where many courses had to operate online to maintain social distancing. The classes were functionally the same yet were not recognised as such.
Boris Johnson described his vision of a post-Brexit Britain as developing a “supercharged magnet”. A magnet which would draw world-class talent from all over the world. In order to achieve this dream, we need to make sure that study in the UK is streamlined, welcoming, and simple.