Help us compete for international students, Russell Group urges government

Marketing campaigns, visa reforms and reciprocal recognition of online courses form the university group’s three-part plan

The Russell Group has today published its proposals to ensure UK universities continue to attract international students in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis.

An international marketing campaign, visa reforms and a push for global recognition of online courses are all part of the plan, which the group says is needed to ensure the country protects its reputation as one of the best places in the world to study.

Around three in 10 students at Russell Group universities are from outside of the UK.

“The impact of Covid-19 is wide-ranging but will inevitably see fewer students studying abroad, and the global competition for those students will be fierce,” it reads. “Safety will be a factor on the minds of many, so it is critical that the Government works overseas, and in collaboration with the sector, to highlight the UK as a safe destination for international students.”

Dr. Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group

The Russell Group’s proposals:


The plan warns that the UK is seen as having responded less effectively to Covid-19 than Australia, Canada and New Zealand. It suggests a new marketing campaign – involving universities, the British Council, Department for Education (DfE) and the Department for International Trade (DTI) – to tackle those perceptions and present the UK as a world-leading ‘brand’ and “an attractive destination for study, work and investment”.

This would include engaging “positively with appropriate social media influencers in target locations”, the plan says, adding that key messages could include UK providers’ roles in developing and trialling Covid-19 vaccines, their support for existing international students during the pandemic and “our amazing NHS”.


Continuing visa reforms, says The Russell Group, would streamline the immigration process for prospective international students. It asks the government to pass the two-year post study work visa “through emergency immigration rules immediately”.

The government should also consider increasing the visa to 30 months, allowing students to apply for a visa six months before their physical course start date (rather than the existing three), reviewing compliance policies to ensure international students feel welcome and extending concessions for disruption caused by Covid-19, such as fee waivers for those forced to extend visas. Universities with a strong track record of compliance should be allowed to carry out the language tests required for pre-degree courses “to reduce the possibility of bottlenecks in the system”.

Reciprocal recognition of online teaching

The plan also recommends the UK government work with other governments to agree reciprocal recognition agreements regarding courses that are delivered partly online during and in the aftermath of Covid-19.

This global consensus is necessary, the group argues, because although social distancing means many universities may have to offer a mixture of online and face to face teaching, some countries do not recognise international degrees with significant elements of online learning. This can be a problem for international students who return home after graduation. This would, the report says, build “on work concessions reached with China.”

With more top universities than any country other than the US, the UK has an advantage but we must maintain that and protect our hard-won reputation as one of the best places globally to study for a degree.

“International students bring many benefits to the UK, but as the world recovers from the Covid-19 crisis, we have to expect numbers will fall for a while and that competition from other countries will be even more fierce than usual,” said Dr Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group.

“With more top universities than any country other than the US, the UK has an advantage but we must maintain that and protect our hard-won reputation as one of the best places globally to study for a degree.

“The Government has shown its determination to do that with the new two-year post study work visa and now is the time to build on this progress. Further action to streamline the immigration process, alongside an ambitious campaign to show the UK’s doors are open will be crucial to helping the country bounce back.”

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