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UK must reverse its “self-defeating” student recruitment course

Following eight years of fighting a “losing battle” to attract students from other countries, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Students in the UK has launched an inquiry report on how to increase recruitment overall.

The APPG's report calls for an "ambitious strategy to increase recruitment" as well as bringing in a two-year PSW visa. Photo: The PIE News

The current system is perceived negatively by prospective international students

Among the 12 recommendations in the report, the APPG suggests the government sets a “clear and ambitious target” to grow international student numbers supported by a cross-departmental strategy.

It also recommends the government remove students from targets to reduce net migration.

“For too long, the drive to reduce net migration has trumped the growth of our world-class education system,” the report reads.

“The good news is, that we are a market leader…the problem is that our relative position is slipping”

“Our campuses, local economies and global standing are suffering as a result,” the report continues, calling for this “self-defeating” course to be reversed.

A clearly labelled and attractive post-study work visa allowing up to two years work experience should also be introduced, as well as changes to visa pathway and immigration rules.

The current system is “perceived negatively” by prospective international students, the report highlights.

“We need to press the reset button, establish an ambitious strategy to increase recruitment, put new policies in place, and send out a clear message that international students are welcome in the UK,” Paul Blomfield MP, co-chair of the International Students APPG, said.

“Increasingly restrictive policies and procedures over the last eight years have discouraged many international students from applying to the UK,” he added, saying that the report offers a way forward for the government to renewed competitiveness for the UK’s “world-class” universities and colleges.

“We have few greater strengths in this country than our universities,” Blomfield commented.

“The good news is, that we are a market leader. The better news is that the market is growing. The problem is that our relative position is slipping.

“Whilst our competitors have viewed the opportunities presented in a growing market, developed strategies to increase numbers dramatically, our recruitment has flatlined,” he noted.

“In a growing market, that is a failure.”

President of the UK Council for International Student Affairs and International Students APPG co-chair, Lord Bilimoria, said it is time for a completely new approach.

“Britain is losing in the battle to attract talented and committed international students from around the world,” Bilimoria commented.

“Eight years of prioritising an impossible target using misleading statistics, over our economy and world-leading institutions, has left the UK’s position as the second largest destination for international students in jeopardy.”

Whereas British universities used to lead the world in attracting international students, Bilimoria noted, all the UK’s major competitors are now growing at a far greater rate.

Post-study work options make a huge impact on prospective international students choosing to study elsewhere, according to Bilimoria.

APPGIS vice-chair Lord David Willetts said he believed the report has the potential to have significant influence in Whitehall, as the report is an export strategy, which the government is “very keen on promoting”.

Nicky Morgan MP APPGIS secretary added that the current home secretary Sajid Javid “very much gets” that British education sector is an export market.

The APPGIS also said the government should work to promote a “welcoming, clear, simple and consistent” message to international students, while institutions should share best practice to enhance strategies through maximising the “benefits of having a diverse body of international students”.

English UK welcomed the report, with its chair Steve Phillips praising its “positive message”.

“Not using the words ‘limit’, the word ‘reduction’, but ‘going for growth’, I think is a really important message,” he said.

Sarah Cooper, chief executive of English UK, praised the recommendations for cross-departmental strategy to target growth, consistent and welcome messaging around international students and the idea of allowing students to transfer on to different courses in the UK without having to go home to apply.

“We also welcome the suggestion that students should be counted but not included in the net migration target, as that sends the wrong message that their numbers should be restricted,” she said.

“Not using the words ‘limit’, the word ‘reduction’, but ‘going for growth’, I think is a really important message”

An international graduate and alumni strategy should be established to support international students with employment opportunities in their home countries “to boost UK soft power, research and trade and support greater engagement with alumni by universities, business and government”.

“There are too many students at the end of their studies who are really concerned they’ve got to go home [immediately]”, Stephanie Marshall, interim vice-principal of Student Experience, Teaching and Learning at Queen Mary University of London, said, representing the Russell Group at the report launch in Westminster.

“That type of reputational risk is really causing us damage,” Marshall stated, adding the Russell Group is keen on seeing the Tier 4 pilot become policy as soon as possible.

“Coming up with a strategy, I think it will unnerve some of our competitors in Australia and Canada,” she added.

James Pitman, UK managing director at Study Group, also welcomed the report, saying if implemented, the recommendations will “increase the UK’s competitiveness in a rapidly expanding and increasingly competitive sector”.

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One Response to UK must reverse its “self-defeating” student recruitment course

  1. The UK higher education community has rested on its laurels for far too long and wonders why the international competition is now biting at its heels

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