RISING global competition to attract international students has led to a sharp fall
in the number of Indian students coming to UK universities, a new report commissioned
by the government warned on Tuesday (11).
The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) was tasked by the Home Office to study the
impact of international students in the UK and recommend any changes to the country’s
visa regime that might be required.
It acknowledged the drop in Indian student numbers in recent years but put that down largely to “adverse” media coverage.
“The UK’s market of students from India has fallen sharply in recent years, while remaining
stable for those students from China. The number of students from India fell from a peak of 24,000 in 2010-11 to fewer than 10,000 in 2016-17,” the report said, adding that it reflected a fall by 11 percentage points since 2010.
“This is probably connected to the ending of some sponsor licences and the change in
the post-study work offer. There has also been adverse coverage of the UK as a place
to study in the Indian press,” it said.
Among the MAC’s recommendations were an overall “easier” transition from student to work visas for talented applicants, including extending the limited post-study leave period from the current three to six months for masters students. But it dismissed the need for an exclusive post-study visa route, seen as central to attracting students from countries like India.
University chiefs have been campaigning for a dedicated post-study visa route, most
recently with representative body Universities UK proposing a new Global Graduate Talent Visa to allow qualified international students to work in a skilled job in the UK for
a period of two years after graduation.
Professor Janet Beer, president of Universities UK, said the organisation, which represents
the country’s 136 leading universities, was “disappointed” with the report’s main recommendations.
“The ability to work in a skilled job for a limited period after graduation is, for many
prospective international students, an important part of the overall package when
deciding where to study. An improved post study visa would put us on a par with what is offered by countries such as the US, Canada and Australia,” she said, warning that growth
in student numbers will only be possible if the UK adopts a more encouraging immigration
The MAC report also concluded that there was no case for international students to be
removed from the government’s annual migration targets.
“If there is a problem with students in the target, it is with the target itself rather than
the inclusion of students in the target,” said MAC chairman Professor Alan Manning in
his foreword to the report.
Campaigners warn that for as long as the UK continues to count international students
as long-term migrants in net immigration figures, there is continued pressure to
reduce those numbers and adds to the perception that overseas students are not really
welcome in the UK.
“The good thing it (MAC) does is to explicitly call out that the government’s net migration target is a political target, and therefore a problem in itself. But it shoots itself in the foot by then recommending that students stay within this target,” said Sanam Arora, chair of the National Indian Students and Alumni Union (NISAU) UK, which has been campaigning for a friendlier visa regime for Indian students.
“The post-study work visa is the key thing required, so what is the point of issuing recommendations and reaffirming findings we all already know if you’re not going to do
anything about it,” she added.
A British Chambers of Commerce spokesperson added, “Businesses around the UK will be bitterly disappointed not to see support for the removal of overseas students
from the immigration statistics”.
The MAC’s recommendations will now be considered by the government in any future
changes to immigration policy.