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Indian stakeholders on grad route value

Stakeholders in India, one of the UK's largest student markets, cautioned against any major changes to the graduate route - so will likely be relieved by today's MAC findings.
May 14 2024
7 Min Read

Indians, who received over a quarter of UK study visas in the year ending September 2023, represented 42% of all international students to receive a post-study work visa in the same year, indicating the review’s significance on the Indian market. 

“While we believe that the MAC review would support the graduate visa, by and large, any significant curtailment would make the UK a relatively less attractive destination for the best and the brightest international students, including from India,” said Piyush Kumar, Regional Director – South Asia and Mauritius, IDP Education.

The two-year Graduate Route, launched in July 2021 to fulfil a target of 600,000 international students by 2030, could see its duration shortened to six months or a year as per reports. The UK government is still yet to respond to the MAC review

According to Saurabh Arora, founder and CEO at University Living, such a move could lead to a major drop in student numbers from India. 

“According to UL’s Indian Student Mobility Report 2023-24, the number of Indian students pursuing higher education in the UK was expected to reach 1,70,000 by 2025.

Indian students are the most significant nationality accessing the graduate route

“But keeping the current scenario in mind, the numbers could be around 70k – 100k or maybe less in upcoming years. We are hopeful that there will be minimal change to keep the UK’s appeal as a preferred destination for Indian students intact,” stated Arora. 

With HEPI’s report indicating that the total net benefit to the UK exchequer of hosting Graduate Route visa holders was £70 million, industry professionals believe any changes can upset the country’s standing as an international education leader. 

“International students not only bring in huge amounts of FDI into the UK, they also are part of an extremely important workforce that drives the country’s economy forward. Several University VCs we spoke to in the run-up to this echo a similar sentiment, and believe we should separate ‘higher education’ out from any political agenda,” said Akshay Chaturvedi, founder and CEO, Leverage Edu

The review of the Graduate Route in a UK election year could lead to student immigrants from India and South Asia looking for more clarity, suggested Sam Burney, South Asia regional manager at Falmouth University. 

“Combined with the recently increased salary threshold for work visas, a reduction in graduate route visa duration would hollow out demand from South Asia, especially for postgraduate courses and from education loan holders.

“The impact would depend on when any changes take effect and on the official reaction of the Labour Party – students will want to know what they would do if they take power later in the year,” said Burney. 

“I have been speaking to a lot of potential students in colleges, agent offices, and at education fairs in the region, and there is a mood of wait-and-see around the 2024 intake due to fears about the graduate route’s future, as well as some negative perceptions around the UK jobs market.

“Under these clouds of uncertainty, many students are putting off finalising their decisions and education agencies are preparing for the worst,” Burney added.

“We are hopeful that there will be minimal change to keep the UK’s appeal”

With many UK universities now setting up operations in India, internationalisation partners such as Acumen (Part of Sannam S4 Group) expect to help institutions prepare for any post-MAC scenario.

“We can assist UK universities with alumni engagement, brand visibility, transnational education development, visa support, strengthening UG engagement, and more, so they can be prepared to work through any post-MAC operations,” said Kalpana Zutshi, director of partner success, Acumen.

Alternative destinations

Many in the Indian market also believe students may opt for the UK’s European counterparts if the MAC findings lead to the Sunak government bringing down the hammer on Graduate Route. 

“Several emerging European countries like IrelandGermany, and the Netherlands could become more appealing.

“Additionally, the UAE in the Middle East presents attractive opportunities, especially with its focus on innovation and technology-driven education. South Korea and Singapore might also see increased interest due to their reputable universities, strong research opportunities, and vibrant cultural scenes,” said Amit Singh, founder at Adventum Student Living. 

Others expect demand in certain countries to translate to more Indian students studying there in the coming years. “Some other European destinations that are gaining traction on the platform as we speak are Germany and France. We also have newfound demand in countries like Finland, Sweden, Spain, and Italy,” added Chaturvedi. 

Corroborating findings from an AECC survey last month, another consultant predicted students will go to countries like the US and New Zealand in light of concerns about the UK. 

“In the [US], numerous schools, internships, and scholarships are available for students. Additionally, students can obtain post-study work permits,” said Manisha Zaveri, Joint Managing Director, Career Mosaic. 

Data from UCAS has already shown a waning interest in the UK among Indian students in recent months, with applications falling by 4 percent compared to the previous year. 

Student organisations defend visa route

With Home Secretary James Cleverly urging MAC to review factors such as Graduate Route abuse, which university a student graduated from, demographics, and whether students choosing the route are contributing to the UK economy, Indian student organisations such as NISAU have stepped up to defend the visa.

“We campaigned for seven years to bring it back last time and will fight to protect this essential pathway again. Without the Graduate Route, university finances may collapse,” read a statement by Sanam Arora, NISAU UK chair, as it prepared to present its recommendations to MAC last month under its Fair Visa, Fair Chance campaign

On the day of the MAC report, NISAU commented, “We urge the government to accept the MAC’s findings and ensure the Graduate route remains a stable and permanent fixture in the UK’s immigration system”.

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