By Nadeem Badshah
MORE Indian students are saying au revoir to Britain and are choosing to study in France.
Figures show that about 10,000 people from India are taking courses in French cities including Paris, a number which has trebled in three years.
Alexandre Ziegler, France’s ambassador to India, said the sharp rise was down to the European country allowing a two-year employment visa and five-year short-stay visa for post-graduate alumni.
In the past year, 21,000 Indian students have chosen the UK but at a slower growth rate of 40 per cent, compared to France.
Experts say Britain is becoming less attractive to budding graduates from abroad, many of whom start courses in September, since scrapping the post-study work visa in 2012.
A report has warned that Britain will need to raise its game after Brexit to persuade graduates from abroad to stay and work. The findings for the Scottish government in August said the UK compares “poorly” with international competitors including France and the system must be revised if it wants to retain its “competitive edge”.
Fizza Qureshi, co-chief executive officer of the Migrants Rights Network charity, told Eastern Eye: “We have seen a slow but clear progression of an unfavourable and hostile environment for international students in the UK.
“It started in 2012 with the closure of the post-study work visa route. Then in 2014, a significant number of international students were accused of cheating in English language tests, ultimately leading to many being deported or left in limbo in the UK without jobs or access to healthcare.
“On top of this, we have the ‘hostile environment’ being actively practised in our educational institutions because they are mandated to enforce the immigration rules and police all international students.”
Qureshi added: “We know that international students boost our economy and institutions. Overtime we have seen they consistently enhance the UK landscape.
This continues when they return to their homeland where they build their infrastructure there.
“With Brexit looming, the government needs to urgently consider how it can make the UK a more welcoming place for international students, otherwise we continue to see them seeking to study in other countries.”
Britain currently allows international students to remain for four months. Under post-Brexit immigration proposals, this would increase to six months for bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and a year for doctorates.
But France, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US allow international students to stay for between one and three years after finishing their course.
Harjap Singh Bhangal, a lawyer for Greater London Solicitors, said the number of international students coming to study in the UK from India is “dwindling” while more are moving to France.
He told Eastern Eye: “Obtaining permanent settlement after studies have been made virtually impossible. The Highly Skilled Migrant Programme was also abolished due to systematic abuse and these schemes were never replaced.
“Countries such as Canada and France have realised that by offering attractive opportunities to international students after their studies, they can increase the income and skills set that international students bring.
“By coming as students to France and ultimately settling there, Indian students will gain French nationality, opening them up to free movement within the EU.”
Meanwhile, a House of Lords committee warned that slashing tuition fees for students in England would have severe consequences for cash-strapped universities.
The Augar review had called for annual tuition fees to be cut to a maximum of £7,500 a year, from £9,250 at present. Ministers are considering the proposal.
But a report by the Lords science and technology committee said the recommendation should be implemented only if ministers compensated universities with extra teaching grants.
Lord Narendra Patel, the committee’s chair, said “The Augar review has completely missed the mark by not considering research funding in its review.
“By ignoring research and cross-subsidies, it has made recommendations which, if implemented, could prove harmful to the already challenging ecosystem of university funding.”
Labour MP Khalid Mahmood said universities were suffering due to the government’s immigration policies.
He said: “It has been absolutely devastating. They (overseas students) have brought a lot of income for universities. It has subsidised UK students, which is why the fees have gone higher.
“The hostile immigration policy has not helped.
“India has the largest graduate per capita in the world.
“We should look to attract them and bring more skilful people here, particularly maths, science, engineering teachers.
“After Brexit, it will be even worse. People won’t come here.”
Meanwhile, graduates from English universities face a bigger debt burden within the next five years, with the total interest charged on undergraduate student loans set to double, according to government figures.
The interest charged on student loans is forecast to rise to £8.6 billion a year by 2024, an increase of £4.2bn.
The government said that it has committed an additional £7bn for higher education for research and development by 2022, which was “the largest increase since records began.”