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UKCISA calls on UK gov’t to make immigration system more flexible

The UK Council for International Student Affairs has published a new policy paper that calls on the government to make its visa and immigration system more flexible in light of Covid-19.

UKCISA has published 15 steps to making the UK the "world’s most attractive destination for international students". Photo: UKCISA

The 'Delivering a world-class international student experience' paper lists 15 steps

The ‘Delivering a world-class international student experience’ paper lists 15 steps that UKCISA believes will make the UK the “world’s most attractive destination” for international students. 

“UKCISA’s vision is that every international student who comes to the UK has a positive experience”

These steps include prioritising international students’ visa applications as VACs reopen, reviewing the implementation of new immigration rules for EU/EEA/Swiss students, and delaying planned increases to the NHS Immigration Health Surcharge for international students.

“UKCISA’s vision is that every international student who comes to the UK has a positive experience,” said Anne Marie Graham, chief executive of UKCISA. 

“While the UK education sector delivers a world-class offer, there are still improvements that can, and should, be made to the current international student experience.” 

Graham said that the roadmap is the result of UKCISA’s “unique position as the champion of international students” and is informed by their “positive partnerships” with students and sector organisations. 

“I am confident that if all of these recommendations are implemented, the UK will indisputably become the best study destination in the world,” she added. 

The 15 points are encompassed in three main areas. The first is a request to the government to position the UK as an attractive destination for study.

This involves extending Covid-related concessions in the visa and immigration system and reviewing the implementation of new immigration rules for EU/EEA/Swiss students from January 2021.

It also involves ensuring any new system delivers an improved ‘customer journey for international students, investing in a global promotional campaign for UK education and better communicating existing sources of scholarship and financial support.

In a blog post, Graham explained that the UK’s most immediate priorities relate to visa and immigration.

We are urgently calling for government to extend and expand existing Corona-related concessions to demonstrate its commitment to ensure no international student is adversely impacted by this situation.

As VACs reopen we need reassurance that there is capacity to deal with a backlog of international student applications, and prioritise international student applications, as France has done,” she said. 

The second area is around delivering a “world-class student experience”. UKCISA hopes the government will maintain and build public and political consensus on the contribution to the UK made by international students.

UKCISA is also asking that the government communicates a clear message welcoming international students, build a better picture of current international students’ experiences, identify the development of an international student charter, and support a coherent UK alumni offer and an international graduate employability strategy.

The third and final set of requests relate to the maintaining of a lifelong connection for students and the offering of a springboard for the future.

UKCISA wants the government to support the development of a stronger evidence base on international students outcomes and educational pathways.

It is requesting that the government “leverage synergies” between educational providers’ employability efforts and governments global networks, that they invest in a pilot for a graduate export placement scheme, and that they prioritise the international recognition of qualifications in government-to-government dialogue.

“In times of crisis, messages from the top matter. First and foremost, we emphasise the need for clear and consistent welcome messages from Government, recognising the important contribution international students make to UK intellectual life, local communities and the economy,” Graham said.

Given the complex challenges posed by the pandemic… there is an imperative to go further”

The UK government published its International Education Strategy in 2019 which set goals of increasing international student numbers by 30% and boosting the economic impact of the industry to £35bn annually by 2030. 

In a statement, UKCISA said that the IES was a welcome change in approach to international education. It also noted that the government has put in place various Coronavirus-related concessions to minimise disruption for students. 

“However, given the complex challenges posed by the pandemic and the UK’s departure from the EU, and the vital contribution international students make to cities and communities across the UK, there is an imperative to go further,” the statement added.

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