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UUK calls for visa reform to curb expected drop in EU exchange students

The length of time short-term exchange students are permitted to stay in the UK should be extended from six months to one academic year. This is the key recommendation a new Universities UK report has made.

Universities are reporting a "considerable shift" among EU exchange students from year-long placements, to shorter, single-semester placements with some even opting out of coming to the UK altogether, the report noted. Photo: Unsplash

some 12,900 students are now at risk of reducing the length of their exchange or could opt out of coming to the UK altogether, the report stated

Without visa reform, the UK risks losing out on hosting more exchange students, the paper stated. The right immigration conditions will foster a potential to boost exchanges from around the world, while stakeholders expect a reduction in EU exchange students.

The report suggested that visa requirements included in the points-based immigration system, introduced on January 1, 2021, may act as a barrier to grow exchanges with global partners.

Evidence UUK has compiled indicates that “fewer immigration requirements are associated with exchange students staying longer in the UK”.

In the past five years, 73% of EU exchange students – who at the time were not subject to immigration requirements – stayed in the UK between 24 weeks and a year, while only 55% of non-EU nationals, who were subject to immigration requirements, stayed for the same length of time.

“Exchange students open up places in other universities around the world for our students to spend time studying abroad”

As part of the new system, a student who wants to stay for longer than six months is required to pay more than three times as much for a student visa, in addition to an annual £470 immigration health surcharge. The visa also has a strict language requirement whereby a student must have a CEFR B2 level, the report noted.

“The expense and bureaucracy of applying for the student visa makes a placement of over six months much less attractive to an EU student than previously,” it read.

Researchers calculated that as many as a third of total exchange students per year – the equivalent of some 12,900 students – are now at risk of reducing the length of their exchange or could opt out of coming to the UK altogether as a result of the new immigration requirements.

Students on short term exchanges to the UK are important for a number of reasons including economic benefits, bringing global links and perspectives to the UK and opening up opportunities for UK-based students, it suggested.

“Like full degree students, they add to the diversity on our campuses and contribute to our economy by spending money on goods and services while they are here, but they also create opportunities for UK students,” director of Universities UK International, Vivienne Stern, posited.

“Exchange students open up places in other universities around the world for our students to spend time studying abroad,” she said.

The way exchange partnerships typically work means that the more incoming students hosted in the UK, the more spaces there will be to send UK students abroad, the report detailed.

“Maintaining or increasing the numbers of students coming to the UK on exchange will be crucial to the success of the Turing Scheme, the UK government’s new global mobility program for UK-based students,” it read.

The Guardian reported on December 8 that the government has outsourced the administration grants of the Turing Scheme from the British Council to Capita.

Without inbound students arriving in the UK, the country’s institutions risk losing opportunities for outbound visits, Stern continued.

“That’s why we want government to make sure that the visa system works for incoming exchange students. We think this is really important if we want to make the government’s newly launched Turing Scheme a success.”

President of Erasmus Student Network UK, Iona Murdoch, added that the current six-month limit is detrimental for students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

“[They] struggle to go abroad for long mobility opportunities and are unable to afford the upfront costs of the alternative visa types, therefore limiting their own opportunities to study abroad and limiting the contributions they bring,” she stated.

“Longer visas will allow students more time to settle in and will have more time to contribute, engage and volunteer for the local community to benefit themselves as well as society more directly.”

The change would bring the length of time exchange students can stay in the UK in line with the duration visiting academics can spend in the country, UUK said.

The financial benefit of extending the student visitor visa length would add to the current estimation of £470 million per year, the report added.

“Success of the Turing Scheme depends on the availability of global placements for our students”

“Incoming students are an integral part of international exchange programs, unlocking study and work experiences for UK-based students at universities worldwide,” Maggie Wootton, Study Abroad operations manager at the University of Birmingham said.

“Success of the Turing Scheme depends on the availability of global placements for our students, meaning it is essential for the UK to be seen as an attractive destination of study.

“A reform to the visitor immigration route would be a welcome as a more inclusive solution for this group of short-term study visitors.”

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2 Responses to UUK calls for visa reform to curb expected drop in EU exchange students

  1. It would only work if it’s reciprocal, which isn’t the case at the moment as outbound students require student visas. Also, given they would be unable to work on a visitor visa, there is a compliance risk to institutions and a personal risk to the students. Those hoping to work to subsidise their exchange or who come on a work placement would still need a Student visa. This needs to be thought through more due to the wider implications.

  2. An 11 month visa would make a massive difference to UK independent Schools for short term students too – the UK is losing an increasingly large amount of revenue to Ireland etc by insisting that short stay students need a Visa for any longer than six months – six months does not equate to 2 academic terms Sept to April and so is causing chaos. If they had up to a year it would also encourage them to stay for a third term. The UK cannot afford to lose these children – if they have a good stay in the UK they will be advocates for Great Britain for life.

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