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Overseas students “treated as cash cows” in UK

Stakeholders are accusing the government of treating migrants to the UK, including international students, as “cash cows” amid lofty health surcharge fee increases and the promise of visa fee rises. 

The NHS surcharge will go up by 65% for students. Photo: Unsplash

Fees will be increased “significantly” to raise over £1bn to fund public sector pay rises

Along with changes to foundation courses to cut down on “rip-off” programs, UK PM Rishi Sunak announced that migrant fees would be increased “significantly” to raise over £1 billion to fund public sector pay rises. 

It comes after strikes have plagued the country for the last year, including by nurses, doctors and teachers. 

Students wanting to study in the UK will be expected to pay a discounted NHS surcharge fee – or Immigration Health Surcharge – of £776 a year, instead of the previous discounted £470. The rise is equivalent to a 65% increase. 

Visa fees will also be going up, with figures being reported at around 15% for migrants, but 20% for students – no official figure has been released. 

“This news will be very disappointing to the international students and global talent that choose to live, work and study in the UK – they make an invaluable contribution to our universities and to our communities,” Jamie Arrowsmith, chief executive of Universities UK International, told The PIE News in a statement. 

“The UK is already perceived as having high immigration costs relative to other nations. Increasing these further, as other countries redouble their efforts to attract more international students, can only serve to reinforce that perception,” he continued. 

Teeroumanee Nadan, who is an expert in internationalisation and has been watching the developing situation with international students in the UK, agreed that the competition would become more difficult. 

“Having to rely on international students to cover internal budgeting will further damage the UK’s reputation both in the educational sector and in the global economy.

“Australia provided substantial financial aid and support to international students during Covid – unlike the UK – and Canada has always been loud and clear about how open it is to international talent. 

“Perhaps this will be reflected in an increase of foreign students going to other countries”

“The UK has already closed itself off with Brexit and closing international prospects in the education sector will create a series of time bombs that will explode after the 2025 elections – and be someone else’s problem,” she told The PIE.

Those who would indirectly be receiving the so-called benefit of the increase – public sector workers – have called out the government’s policy, with migrant charity Praxis accusing the government of using migrants as “cash cows” and one Serbian lecturer at Cardiff University telling the Guardian it is “borderline racist”.

The union representing junior doctors, who are at the centre of the recent strike action, called the move “immoral and divisive”. 

“The NHS surcharge goes against the founding principles of the NHS as a universal service, free at the point of need,” Doctors in Unite said in a statement. 

Nadan called the move to increase the fees “ironic”, and also pointed out that international students have already been penalised in the UK this year, with a ban on dependants on postgraduate taught programs being introduced. 

“Bearing in mind that the highest numbers of international students are from India and China, this will come in handy for the short term to appease tensions among the general public.

“But with India now being the fifth largest economy, and China already at number two, economically this is not well thought through.” 

Despite the issues surrounding the IHS fees, one agent said he was confident it wouldn’t impact the market. 

“The IHS fee, when put together along with the other fees, in reality is not a big issue [for students]”, Noor Hasan Mahmud, country manager Bangladesh for TCL Global, told The PIE. 

“Having to rely on international students to cover internal budgeting will further damage the UK’s reputation”

Despite this reassurance, some students still believe the issue will deter others from joining them. 

“Given the role that legal migrants play in the economy in general and in specific sectors – like health – in particular, the percentage of the increase seems a bit excessive to me,” said Alan Zamayoa, a Mexican MsC candidate at a British university, speaking to The PIE. 

Zamayoa explained that the move seemed extremely political – i.e, the Conservative party trying to appeal to its base on immigration while trying to prevent “further loss of potential votes with a tax increase in other sectors”. 

“Since we foreign students tend to apply for programs in more than one country, perhaps this will be reflected in an increase of more foreign students to other countries,” he continued, echoing Nadan’s reservations. 

“Pursuing a degree abroad is not cheap, so if you’re going to part with a significant amount of money, at least you’d want to go somewhere you’re getting a good education and tools for what you’re paying,” Zamayoa noted.

“Our reputation as a welcoming destination for international students, and the government’s claims to want a competitive immigration system for researchers and innovators are severely tested by these announcements,” Arrowsmith added.

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3 Responses to Overseas students “treated as cash cows” in UK

  1. International education was always a cashcow for various governments. Its a shame Governments fail to address the need for delivering good quality education and on the otherhand, many students opting to study abroad, wouldn’t get an admission in their own countries for e.g. India or China where the level of competition & cut-off to enter a good university is so tough.

  2. The United Kingdom government suddenly scrapped the freedom of switch of visas given to foreign students from July 17, 2023.
    The decision was taken by the government because the number of migrants arriving in the UK in 2022 and 2023 was very high.
    It is fair on the side of the government. But from the perspective of foreign students, it appears to be very unfair. The reason for that is when we consider the reasons why the government allowed foreign students to switch their visa.
    In November 2022 the government suddenly decided to give permission to switch student visa to skilled worker visa and sub category include care worker visa in order to reduce the shortage of job market. It is necessary to cover the severe labour shortage in the social care sector.
    According to the previous system, an international student was able to switch his visa after obtaining his degree. But after the government changed this rule students were able to change their visa at any time while any point of their study. Many students took advantage of this law.
    This was not illegal at all. The government opened the back door to them. It is not the government’s mistake. They did know what they are doing. They wanted to somehow reduce the labour shortage in the country.
    But it also benefited the students. Many students joined the job market through this. Also, during this period, many students who applied for student visa to came to study with this goal keeping in mind.
    That is on the permission of the British government. No doubt. Government gave them permission, come to study and if you want job, find it and switch your visa. Then most students came in this year for the study, because of this extra benefit government offer them. Otherwise they may have to choose deferent country for their study. But suddenly the government stopped to apply this rule effecting from 17july 2023 without giving them any additional time or any transitional period.
    Again the old immigration rule updated into use.
    Thousands of foreign students who came to the country during this time were prejudiced by this. It is a very unfair act.
    The government has the right to make decisions and change, but they have ability to provide some relief to the students who came under this particular law.
    If the government had not given this permission, so many students would not have come with this purpose in mind. This is like revealing the path and then placing a barrier at an invisible distance.
    It was reported in some media that a group of students who came during this period changed their visas as soon as they entered the country. This harmed the universities that sponsored those students.
    It happened that the students entered the university by paying only half of their course fee and then changed their visa and entered the job market.
    This put the universities in serious trouble. First of all, they did not receive the income they should have received.
    The second is to lose an opportunity to another student etc.
    But the main reason for these things to happen is the lack of proper legislation.
    What the government should have done is to make the law so that at the end of each year of the student’s university life, he can switch his visa instead middle of the year. That means every student need to study one full year before switch their visa and they should inform to the university before year end.
    If so, no one will be prejudiced.
    But in the end, what happened was that the government’s desired goal was not fulfilled and the students fell into trouble.
    Also missing an opportunity to fill the 165,000 care worker workforce that still cannot be filled.
    The government still has a chance to fix this.
    If this can be rectified to compensate for the labour shortage in the country without harming any party, the future objectives of the government, will well achieved.
    Priyantha Wijekoon

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