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UK must remain “a beacon for talent”, says gov

UK universities need international students “more than ever”, they have been reminded, the same day as the government revealed a package of support measures for the higher education sector.

The UK education secretary said he was "committed to ensuring that any dip in the number of international students is temporary". Photo: Flickr/ barnyz

As part of the announcement, the government said Department for Education and Department for International Trade ministers will chair a group including key sector representatives tasked with updating its International Education Strategy.

The strategy will be updated by autumn to respond to the impact of Covid-19, and the government remains committed to two-year post-work visa – to be introduced by summer 2021.

According to Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, policymakers were always likely to focus on home students – which they have with this announcement.

“It is these students that the government funds and over whom the regulators have more sway,” he said.

“However, universities keen to balance the books or at least ensure they do not get too much into the red need international students more than ever, as does the UK if we are to avoid entering a dark period of post-Brexit isolationism,” Hillman suggested.

“The objective must be to come out of the blocks faster than our main competitors”

“Their importance goes far beyond money because learning is better in diverse groups and, as the fight against Covid-19 shows, international collaboration is essential in confronting the world’s challenges.”

The ministerial-led group “could end up as very significant if the sector plays its cards right”, he added.

“The objective must be to come out of the blocks faster than our main competitors in terms of showing potential international students that the UK is a safe study destination with great institutions and a brilliant new post-study work offer.”

The support package lacked clarity over some outstanding visa questions, but Hillman remains hopeful.

“I am still hopeful that will come soon as the statement was a milestone not the final destination,” he said.

In April, government Tier 4 guidance said universities with a “track record of compliance” would be permitted to self-assess students to ensure they met language requirements.

Former universities minister Chris Skidmore warned that the advance loan is welcome, but “ultimately does not account for potential huge loss of income due to reduction in international students”.

The government noted that UK HE providers had “gone to great lengths” to support international students during a difficult time.

Education secretary, Gavin Williamson, said he was “committed to ensuring that any dip in the number of international students is temporary”.

“We have shown flexibility and announced important measures to allow universities to continue to recruit internationally during this crisis. We will be relaunching our International Education Strategy this autumn, as well as introducing a new, streamlined, graduate visa route from next summer.

“These initiatives will help to ensure that universities in the UK remain a beacon for the world’s talent.”

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