One leading figure pointed out that this would likely have an adverse impact on not just net migration figures, but on student numbers themselves.
“We are deeply disappointed to see this policy take effect to end the right to bring dependants for those on postgraduate taught courses,” said AnneMarie Graham, chief executive of UKCISA.
“This policy will also disproportionately affect potential international students who are unable to travel with dependants and will mean that they choose to study elsewhere,” she warned.
Agents are also on high alert after the news broke on May 23, in what appears to be preparation for the release of record-breaking migration figures from the Office for National Statistics on May 25.
Amrith Weerasekera, who runs the Campus Direct agency assisting students from Sri Lanka, predicted that the move would result in a sharp drop in numbers from South Asia.
“I believe this new change will drive away genuine students from the UK since there are many students who will not travel without the dependants,” he told The PIE News.
“Especially with education empowering more women, it’s not fair for any country to deny them from bringing children and spouse.
“Most south Asian students are very close to family and being away from them will cause them other stress and put family life at risk,” he noted.
Nick Hillman, who runs HEPI – which recently released a groundbreaking report showing international students inject £42bn into the UK economy – also touched on the fact that women would be worse affected by the ban in a tweet.
SI-UK, which works to bring thousands of students from across the globe to the UK, said the move would “clearly affect postgraduate taught student intakes to, and the global engagement of, UK universities”.
“It’s not fair for any country to deny them from bringing children and spouse”
“International students make a positive and vital contribution to the UK HE sector: internationalising the student experience, contributing to ground-breaking research, and forming an international alumni network including many overseas prime ministers and business leaders,” Charlie Carter, director of UK operations told The PIE.
Welcomed warmly, however, was the ban on visa-switching – where universities were seeing international students drop off courses just months in to go and work in the care industry.
Under new legislation, all students must complete their course before attempting to change their visas.
“I’m pleased to see the policy change regarding switching the visa – it was much needed,” Shivani Bhalla, head of international student recruitment at Brunel University London, told The PIE. Also crucial, she said, was the comments made regarding agents.
Home secretary Suella Braverman mentioned in the announcement that there would a crackdown on “unscrupulous education agents” who are selling “immigration not education”.
Bhalla also noted, however, that the sector “mustn’t forget” that the graduate route is still going as the two-year option for post-study work.
“I’m pleased to see the policy change regarding switching the visa”
“Many UK universities had a healthy international student recruitment intake pre-Graduate Route as well. We just need to re-energise our market characteristics,” she urged.
“We welcome commitment to the International Education Strategy’s targets and continued support for the Graduate Route,” noted Graham.
The Bevan Foundation, a policy think tank geared towards public policy reform in Wales, made the point that the devolved countries – and smaller institutions – would hurt more than anyone else.
“Welsh universities earned just over £185 million from international students in 2015-16,” noted Isata Kanneh, the Bevan Foundation’s access to justice project lead.
“International student fees fund education for UK students – the changes might have a negative impact on university finances, but they are not likely to do much to affect migration.”
Weerasekera also warned that this would be an issue – and that not just the universities, but the cities themselves, would be affected.
“Most of the businesses [in smaller cities] rely on students and dependants for housing rentals, labour and many other things which drive the local economy,” he said.
He also predicted that governments would need to step in to keep some institutions going.