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“Not out of the woods yet” – NISAU event

"Campaign in your own constituency" - MPs urged the UK sector to keep up political pressure with every university able to demonstrate value of international education.
May 17 2024
3 Min Read

“Campaign in your own constituency” – this was one message that key stakeholders in the UK’s international education sector agreed on at a discussion hosted this week by Virendra Sharma MP and NISAU to focus on UK-India higher education ties.

Meeting on the same day as the MAC review was published, MPs supportive of the industry acknowledged that there is still work to be done to defend the industry’s success and limit risk to the graduate route – despite the MAC’s recommendation for it to remain.

“There is an expectation that you know everything about everything [as an MP],” shared Paul Blomfield MP, co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Students. “And you can’t.”

“There is a need to engage,” he urged, adding that despite the strong message from MAC, the sector is “not out of the woods yet”.

“We’re not dealing with rational evidence-based policy makers,” he noted.

Blomfield also conceded that he could not say how the Labour party would respond to the government response to MAC. But he said Labour had backed the ban on dependents because the sector was seen to back this, assuming that the graduate route would be left intact.

Scottish MP Alison Thewliss, vice-chair of the APPG, also encouraged engagement with MPs and prospective parliamentary candidates and acknowledged the contribution international students make in Scotland.

“I think we need to make sure that everybody standing in this election sees that this [sector] is important,” she said.

Lib Dem Lord Dholakia OBE, observed that “the political situation is right” to seek to raise national awareness of the value of the sector’s global link building, especially with trade negotiation ongoing with India at the moment, and with Indian students most likely to access the graduate route.

Ruth Arnold, executive director for external affairs at Study Group, shared her engagement with her own MP in the Peak District on the value of the sector, explaining it was only when she pointed out that the Covid vaccine was developed by a team of scientists including international students that she realised wider impact and context.

“She had never thought of it like that,” said Arnold.

Others speakers included the CEO of QS, IDP and Edvoy – broader agreement was also reached on need of more and more up-to-date data, since HESA data always lags behind real time.

Sadiq Basha of Edvoy shared his own experience as an international student – he now runs a multi-million pound business employing 150 staff.

Blomfield shared that he felt the sector had “upped its game” in terms of speaking with one cohesive voice.

“But this is not simply a meta narrative. Every university should own [its advocacy],” he said, nodding to HEPI research which shows every single constituency benefits from international education.

NISAU also shared that they have resources to support advocacy and with case studies on international student success. They have also launched their own careers employability service to help international students navigate the journey from graduate to employee – with acknowledgement in the room that careers services can still be improved at institutional level.

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