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What UK international educators want to see in manifestos in the next election

Speaking at British Educational Travel Association’s parliamentary reception recently, the tourism and heritage spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats Baroness Doocey emphasised that now is the time for the sector to lobby the UK’s political parties.

Photo: iStock

Arrowsmith also said that future governments should look at the way international students are presented in net migration statistics

This is a really important time for us to lobby, to persuade and to cajole because basically [all the political parties] looking for ideas,” she told those gathered.

The current UK parliament comes to its end on December 17, 2024, meaning the latest the next general election can be is January 2025.

There is much speculation as to when exactly it will take place but one thing is for sure, UK political parties are preparing to put together the manifestos and plans should they be the ones in government following the next vote.

The PIE asked key stakeholders what commitments they want from government.

Following the UK’s confirmation that it will be associating to the EU’s Horizon program, UUKi director Jamie Arrowsmith highlighted three priorities.

“First, the UK’s international reputation and success is based on our domestic capacity and performance.

“We need an end to the damaging narrative that has so often surrounded universities and to address the very real funding challenges in both teaching and research. That has to be the number one priority, it creates the foundation for everything else,” he said.

Language and messaging were also points picked up by UKCISA chief executive, Anne-Marie Graham.

“We’d like to see manifestos support messaging that promotes the UK as a welcoming and safe country to study in,” she said.

“We’d like to see manifestos support messaging that promotes the UK as a welcoming and safe country”

“This means avoiding any negative language when referring to student migration, international students and their dependants, and avoiding exclusionary language such as the ‘best and brightest’ which dismisses student potential and the need for workers at all levels to address the widening skills gap,” Graham noted.

Secondly, Arrowsmith called for “stability in the policy environment for international students”.

The Graduate route must be maintained and a commitment to “sustainable international student recruitment”, he said.

The post-study work opportunity was also mentioned by the Boarding Schools’ Association.

In a statement to The PIE, BSA said it would like to see “an even clearer, more accessible, and affordable sponsor and student visa process for international students studying at boarding schools across the UK”.

Ensuring successful access for international boarders to continue to UK universities in the long term should also be prioritised in the next election, it continued.

To remain competitive, the UK government must halt statements which “threaten the ‘post-study work’ Graduate visa route for graduates and the sector overall”, it said.

For the English language sector, the country’s national association called for three priorities.

One is work rights for ELT students studying under the student visa route, the second allowing EU junior groups to come to the UK using ID cards rather than passports, in addition to youth ability deals both with EU countries and globally, Huan Japes from English UK said.

Other policy changes English UK set out in its position paper earlier this year include the right for students to apply for follow-on visas without leaving the country.

“I would add that we expect an announcement this autumn on ID cards and the list of travellers scheme for French students but would like progress in other countries too,” Japes added.

Arrowsmith also said that future governments should look at the way international students are presented in net migration statistics.

In 2012, the then universities minister, David Willetts, wrote to the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, that keeping students in the net migration figures could “result in a reduction in the number of legitimate students”. It a point raised repeatedly in years since.

Six years later, a predecessor of Clegg’s as leader of the Liberal Democrats Vince Cable told The PIE that the home office’s “insistence of including overseas students amongst immigrants” was “one of the most stupid, self-damaging policies in recent years”. It was a “lose-lose-lose-lose policies”, he said at the time.

“That’s been driving bad policy for a decade,” Arrowsmith added.

The UUKi director also said that the UK’s International Education Strategy, while being “incredibly helpful and has led to growth”, may need reevaluating.

“It’s time to rethink what the IES looks like, and our offer to the world. The message to potential partners should be: whatever your aspirations – as a student, a researcher, or an institution or business overseas – the UK is the best possible place to help you fulfil that ambition,” he said.

“We’d like to see manifestos commit to celebrate UK higher education and the diversity and choice across different fields of study, not using negative language about low-quality courses and crackdowns,” Graham at UKCISA concluded.

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