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“Lack of data” makes measuring UK grad visa impact difficult, as route turns two

A landmark report showing insights into how the UK’s graduate route visa has impacted the sector shows a glaring “lack of data” surrounding where international graduates go and what they do after their time at UK institutions. 

Co-authors of the report, Jane Venn and Joy-Elliott Bowman, at the report launch in the House of Lords. Photo: The PIE News

The document outlines ten recommendations - five for government, two for HEIs and three in "cooperation"

The Graduate Visa: An Effective Post-Study Pathway for International Students in the UK?, commissioned by the APPG for international students and released on July 19, examines the route’s success and impact, and considers what can be done to improve its use by international students throughout the UK. 

“As the reputation of the graduate visa grows and changes it is important to understand not only its effectiveness but its potential to have a positive impact on all aspects of the student journey, from prospective student to skilled employee or entrepreneur,” the report said. 

“In attempting to evaluate the effectiveness of the graduate visa route, this Inquiry has found, overwhelmingly, that there is an urgent need for further research and better collection of data relating to international graduate outcomes,” it continued. 

Joy Elliott-Bowman, policy development lead at Independent HE who co-author of the report with IDP’s Jane Venn, told The PIE News that the data currently being used to inform policy decisions is scattered.

“We’ve got these small datasets – we have higher education students only; then we have visa statistics – just those coming in, not coming out; the international passenger survey, which doesn’t really even count people coming out,” Elliott-Bowman explained. 

“And we’re trying to bring together these other disparate datasets across the sector, but we’re a billion pound export industry – it’s not right,” she continued. 

Having something like this that “brings together the evidence” is crucial, Anne-Marie Graham, chief executive of UKCISA, told The PIE. 

“We need to make policy decisions based on data, and in [recent years] we have regressed in terms of how we collect our international graduate outcomes data, so it makes it very difficult,” Graham explained. 

“Overwhelmingly, that there is an urgent need for further research”

As the route turns two, the numbers granted the graduate visa have topped over 170,000; 12,484 were granted visas in the first year between July and September 2021, while 2022 saw 72,893 granted leave to remain under the route. As of March 2023, 92,951 extensions were given under the scheme.

The document outlines 10 recommendations. One directly addresses this data gap: a UK-wide international education data strategy, developed by government, education bodies and stakeholders.

The strategy “should include” the impact of the graduate visa “across the student journey, and the economic and soft power contribution of international graduates”. 

Five of the recommendations are to the UK government: commitment to regular reviews of global competitiveness, ensuring students don’t lose leave as they transition between visas, considering the role international students play in addressing skills shortages – as part of its ambitions to grow higher technical education – and maintenance of other post-study work routes to “provide choice and facilitate different outcomes”.

On skills shortages, Baroness Garden of Frognal – in attendance at the report’s launch and a member of the APPG – said she was “delighted to see technical education” mentioned as part of the recommendations.

“Colleges as well as universities need to be involved in this great enterprise,” she noted.

The most crucial suggestion, perhaps, is the recommendation that the government should “commit to maintaining” it through the next parliament. 

For higher education institutions, the most pressing recommendation was the need for an implementation of a national strategy for employability of international students.

Elliott-Bowman pointed out some universities do have their own strategies, but some can be more difficult to access. Having a streamlined strategy would benefit both colleges and students. 

It also suggested that universities step into a “liaison” role – helping facilitate conversations between employers and international students. 

The last three recommendations made by the APPG were on “cooperation”, including the data strategy proposal, and also calling for better communication about the visa to both graduates and employers. 

“The government needs to communicate better with employers – it means much more to them when it comes from,” Graham noted.

The final proposal was that institutions and employers should be working to “mitigate the costs” of the visa for students from lower- and middle-income backgrounds”. 

“Throughout the evidence, students are telling us that the cost of the application and the Immigration Health Surcharge is a barrier. It is a significant lump sum to find in addition to covering living costs which often increase for many as their student status ends,” the report noted. 

“It means much more to them when it comes from”

It was announced on July 13 that the IHS is to surge in price for both students and migrants, with the fee for students now £776 a year – much to the dismay of many stakeholders. 

The inquiry conducted an international student roundtable as part of its work, revealing that some graduates were finding it difficult to transition to the visa, and that a lack of support existed for those actually on the visa. Marking boycotts and strikes at UK universities have also caused problems for international students.

“We had a lot of information from students about that transition, and how the visa itself is being perceived by employers,” Elliott-Bowman told attendees of the report’s launch at the House of Lords on July 19.  

The student voices in the report also noted the positive aspects of the visa. One student said it gave them the “upper edge” in their field due to the fact it opens up work experience avenues – “different sectors have different demands”, they said. 

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