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UK HEIs “tour” Europe, post-study work problems remain

British universities have increased activity in Europe following uncertainty around Brexit, but international recruitment continues to be limited due to the UK’s lack of post-study work visa, delegates heard at this year’s British Universities’ International Liaison Association in Manchester.

(L to R) Julie Ward MEP, EAIE's Sabine Pendl, CBIE's Sonja Knutson and BUILA committee member Catriona McCarthy. Photo: The PIE News

Australian post-study work rules have driven growth in South-East Asia

EAIE vice-president Sabine Pendl expressed surprise at an increase in activity from UK universities seeking to be involved in European programs such as Erasmus and Erasmus+.

“All of a sudden UK universities are on tour”

In 2017, BUILA members spoke of liaising with counterparts in Europe to discuss a Brexit ‘Plan B’ to ensure the continuation of the movement of students and staff.

“Before that there was a certain shyness from the UK side,” Pendl said.

“What we have found is that all of a sudden UK universities are on tour – touring countries, institutions. Exchange and cooperation is also on your agenda,” she told delegates at BUILA’s 14th conference.

She added that British universities should show interest in Macron’s European Universities project while “still in” the EU.

“Whatever [Brexit means] you are the UK. This is the biggest advantage of all,” Pendl concluded.

Phil Sanders, managing director of i-graduate explained that the nature of institutions would be an important factor for success following Brexit.

“If you look at the UK Alliance and modern universities… there is almost the same number [of students] saying they will be more likely to study in the UK [following Brexit] than those saying they will be less likely,” he said.

Russell Group and Scottish universities face a higher percentage of students saying that they would be less likely to study in the UK post-Brexit, according to data from i-graduate.

Sanders said that the data shows students from European countries including Germany (-72%) Spain (-64%) and Italy (-56%) were less likely to study in the UK following Brexit.

However, students from Nigeria, China and India were more likely to choose UK.

HEPI director Nick Hillman explained that the “decline in income is smaller than you might think, about £40million,” if EU students were to have to pay full international fees and were not entitled to loans following Brexit.

According to Sanders, it’s important for universities to have an “informed picture of the nuances between study field, study level, source country” when recruiting international students.

“[International students] are all looking at the current political climate through their own particular lens,” he explained.

But amid Brexit fears, delegates were told that possibilities in other countries are increasing.

“We will see completely different approach [to opportunities in Africa] in the next five to 10 years,” Tosin Adebisi senior international officer (Africa & the Middle East) at the University of Sussex explained.

To recruit African students, universities should offer partnerships and courses that focus on innovation and entrepreneurship, he suggested.

“International students and parents crave certainty”

Pankaj Chandra, vice chancellor of Ahmedabad University, said that Indian universities are interested in partnering with institutions that offer exchanges with internships.

“Many Indian universities are starting to develop very customised exchanges,” he said, adding that students are becoming interested in short term programs, sometimes lasting less than a year.

Oliver Fortescue, chair of Australian Universities International Directors Forum, explained that visa policy makes a big difference.

Fortescue indicated that Australian universities were benefiting from the country’s post-study work policy, which he said has been a big driver for growth in South Asia.

Referring to Brexit, he explained that Australian universities are “not going out [in Europe] and saying ‘don’t go to the UK'”.

“There is uncertainty in the market. I think international students and parents crave certainty,” he added.

Sonja Knutson, director of the Canadian Bureau for International Education, agreed with Fortescue that immigration policy and work opportunities have a measurable impact on recruitment.

“The most significant reason for choosing Canada is the opportunity to work and stay,” she said. “10 years ago that figure was less than 50%, now its 61% [of international students] plan to work in Canada.”

She explained that in Newfoundland, it has been difficult to connect international students to the local labour market. There has been a big shift towards international students becoming entrepreneurs.

“I run a lot of international student entrepreneurship programs and immigration pathways are adapting for international students to be able to transition without a job just by starting their own companies.”

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