At the event titled ‘Next steps for international student recruitment in HE’ by Westminster Higher Education Forum, Stern highlighted the priorities for the sector with an address focusing on “maintaining the UK’s leading position in attracting international students”.
“There will be no return to the old days”
Stern noted that competition has intensified with the proliferation of courses taught in English around Europe.
This situation will only get harder after Brexit, as EU students are likely to lose the privileged fee levels they currently enjoy, making the (often much cheaper) mainland European options more attractive.
“We are starkly aware that EU students have many choices on where to study”, Stern said.
She outlined that along with Brexit and all the perils that could come with the UK’s exit from the EU, British higher education could face a shortfall in domestic funding.
Stern mentioned a “hostile” domestic debate around the funding of higher education, which could lead to further pressures on the system, and also reminded those in attendance of the shortfall of domestic research funding that has allowed the fees of international students to become crucial in the funding of research and development in the UK.
Crucially, Stern told the audience that there will be no “return to the old days”, when the UK was a top study destination almost by default.
Instead, government and institutions need to make positive steps.
She implored the UK government to “make a different choice at the visa level”, and to include post-study work in a new visa category.
And at another event organised by the Hotcourses Group this week, Stern went farther in outlining an eight-point manifesto for the UK HE sector to get behind, which she then tweeted to Jo Johnson, Universities Minister.
This included building on our international research achievements; diversifying the countries which we traditionally recruit from; building our TNE offer; developing PSW policy; and ensuring universities support such a national agenda.
At the Westminster Forum, the audience also heard from Anna Lacey, the head of student migration policy at the UK government’s Home Office.
Lacey said that the UK government supports international students, and reaffirmed that “there are no plans for a limit [on international students]”.
She went on to confirm that all international students have between two and four months to find work once their studies have ended, or switch to a “work route” visa.
Lacey said the Home Office argues that no other visa route is necessary. “There are four key routes for post-study work already”, she noted.
However, Dominic Scott, Chief Executive of UKCISA, speaking at the #HCIForum, wryly observed that despite the “no cap” mantra of the government – there is a cap on the number of CAS [confirmation of acceptance for studies] that institutions can issue.
This is managing migration “by the back door” he said, agreeing with Stern that greater flexibility or “liberalisation” in how international students can stay in the UK post-study would be hugely beneficial.
Despite the “no cap” mantra of the government – there is a cap on the number of CAS that can be issued
The audience also heard from Tripti Maheshwari, founder of Student Circus, a former international student-turned-entrepreneur whose company now helps other international students leverage routes to remain.
“Consider how you can empower us, don’t play the victim of current [work regulation] policy,” she told university delegates – complaining that there was a complete disconnect between careers advice and immigration advice offered by universities. Her company has been set up to plug that gap.
• Additional reporting by Amy Baker.