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MAC a “missed opportunity” – stakeholders

A recommendation to keep students in the net migration figures left international education stakeholders bitterly disappointed at the long-awaited MAC report.

The report provided evidence of the beneficial contribution of international students to the UK. Photo: Brooke Cagle/Unsplash

Yu didn't mince his words and defined the report "woefully inadequate" at best, and a failure to act on the evidence presented to the committee at worst

Although the report provided evidence on the beneficial impact of international students, the report recommendations were widely deemed a ‘missed opportunity,’ with Universities Scotland director Alastair Sim pointing out that affirmation of the value of international students in the report needs to be backed up with substantive policy change.”

“I think they’ve missed an opportunity, they’ve missed the logical conclusion of their own argument”

UKCISA chief executive Dominic Scott told The PIE News that while the document seemed to have taken into consideration all the recommendations the sector made, its conclusions, in contrast, appear “modest in parts and disappointing in others.”

“The MAC may have missed an important opportunity to give a really clear steer to the government on future policy and the incentives and encouragement we were all hoping for,” he said.

“I think they’ve missed an opportunity, they’ve missed the logical conclusion of their own argument,” UUKi director Vivienne Stern told The PIE.

 “If it’s a good thing if the UK attracts more international students, and as they also say, a better post-study work offer would increase demand, this is the change they need to take.”

But Stern also praised the additional time period for MSc students and the 1-year extension for PhDs, which she defined “a win.” The additional call for another inquiry specifically into PSW is also important, she added.

“As a sector, we have to seize that opportunity with both hands. If the evidence isn’t good enough, then that’s our next job, to improve the evidence,” she said.

“We don’t know what the policy decision will be. There is still a chance government will say, ‘thanks MAC, we think we need to go further’.”

Stern defined the analysis around the net migration target “muddleheaded.”

“We never suggested that international students shouldn’t be counted. We always made it clear that the problem with the target was the effect on policy,” she said.

The report itself explained that the damage may be caused more with the target itself – which the Labour Party’s shadow immigration minister Afzal Khan defined “wrongheaded” – than with the inclusion of students in it.

The Higher Education Policy Institute, defining the report as “woefully disappointing,” said that keeping students in the net migration target will hinder growth because it will suggest the government is not committed to growing international student numbers.

“Perhaps the single biggest reason why the UK is so out-of-kilter with our key competitors on international students is that we choose to give 100% policy responsibility on student migration to our Home Office,” HEPI said in a statement.

NUS International Students officer Yinbo Yu echoed HEPI by pointing out that ambitions to grow student numbers will remain a “pie-in-the-sky” aspiration without significant reforms.

“[The report is] unwilling to acknowledge that the immigration system as it stands acts as an obstacle for some, and a deterrent for many,” he said in a statement.

Yu didn’t mince his words and defined the report as “woefully inadequate”, and a failure to act on the evidence presented to the committee at worst.

He also stated that “small administrative changes to the post-work entitlements of some postgraduate students” will do little to help the UK compete with the “superior offer” of its competitors.

In its response, the British Chamber of Commerce stated that “arbitrary numerical targets” should be scrapped as they don’t allow businesses to address skills gaps.

“Business communities around the UK will be bitterly disappointed not to see support for the removal of overseas students from the immigration statistics,” head of business environment and skills Jane Gratton said in a statement.

She also called on the government to reinstate a PSW visa to enable universities and businesses “to benefit from the energy of some of the people they have trained.”

“The immigration system as it stands acts as an obstacle for some, and a deterrent for many”

Most of the report recommendations pertained to students in higher education, with no changes to the status of English language students – something English UK CEO Sarah Cooper called disappointing.

“The committee did not seem to appreciate the significance of English language students on the overall international student journey, and in particular the transition to HE,” she told The PIE.

She explained that she hoped the government will abolish existing restrictions, allowing students to transfer from ELT to HE without having to return home to apply for a new visa.

She also added that while there are some “limited positives” to the report, its recommendations for post-Brexit status for EU students were also limited and didn’t include visa-free travel for long-term EU students.

Founder of Tier 2 match service Student Circus, and PIEoneer Award winner, Tripti Maheshwari, told The PIE  that the proposed changes to lengthen the window for Tier 2 application will remove time constraint for job-hunting students.

“As a business, we will have longer life cycle of students we can help and employers who will be benefited without any time crunch, which is great,” she said.

Industry stakeholders had submitted their evidence to the Migration Advisory Committee for the inquiry earlier this year.

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