The government “must act now” to avoid a dramatic decline in European student recruitment to UK universities “for years to come”, Universities UK has warned today.
The organisation, which represents 139 higher education institutions in the British Isles, urged the government to do more to promote and incentivise study in the UK to students in European markets, ahead of changes to the visa system next year.
The points-based immigration system, due to be implemented from 1 January 2021, means students from the EU/EEA will be required to apply for a visa to study in the UK for the first time in decades; the sector body warned that, based on present government predictions, and in light of the continued disruption of the coronavirus pandemic, it is likely to result in a “steep decline” in the number of European student at UK universities over the coming years.
European students currently account for around a third of all international students in the UK. UUK believes “the next generation of overseas talent could slip through the cracks and be lost to global competitors unless immediate action is taken”.
We welcome improvements to the visa system, and the introduction of the graduate route but we must appreciate that, for EU students, there are new barriers to choosing to study in the UK. We need to be creative to ensure we can still attract these students
– Vivienne Stern, Universities UK international
Students will from today be able to apply to the government’s new graduate route, which replaces the Tier 4 visa and permits undergraduate students to stay in the UK for two years after completing their course either to work or look for work. Postgraduate visa holders will be permitted to stay for three years.
The government predicted in an impact assessment of the points-based immigration system on 29 April that EU students could reduce by 20 percentage points – this figure is based on an assessment of the number of EU students who at present remain in the UK to work more than two years after graduation. It predicted that these students, who use the study as a route towards a career in the UK, would be the most likely to be deterred by the restrictions of the new visa.
Research from the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) and Kaplan offered a more pessimistic projection, suggesting that enrolments of EU students could decrease by 57% (over 31,000 students).
UUK has urged the government to promote the new student route to European students and lower the cost of the immigration application: according to analysis by the Royal Society, the UK student visa costs the applicant or sponsor £1,375, 405% more than the average leading science nation (£272). UUK also urged the government to improve the governance of, and sector involvement in, the Study UK campaign and invest a further £20m a year into its activities.
The UUK has also called on the government to offer “targeted financial support” to European students, such as scholarships, a university-government match-funded model or government-backed loans for students. University Business asked UUK to detail how much both its recommended European student recruitment schemes would cost the Treasury; in response a spokesperson for UUK said: “This is something we are keen to explore with government and develop costed proposals on.”
The government predicted in April that there would be a reduction in EU student inflows by 15,000 per annum until 2026. The same risk assessment predicted that non-EU international students could offset some of these losses, if the decade-long trend in their increasing numbers continues.
In the government’s risk assessment, it identifies EU students as “a net fiscal cost” to the UK, largely attributed to the cost of student loans; it is possible that EU students could make a net fiscal contribution to the UK’s balance of payments once their access to loan support is removed.
Vivienne Stern, director of Universities UK international, said: “Now is the time for UK government to demonstrate how much they value European students, who make up more than a third of all international students in the UK. We welcome improvements to the visa system, and the introduction of the graduate route but we must appreciate that, for EU students, there are new barriers to choosing to study in the UK. We need to be creative to ensure we can still attract these students.
“At this very moment European students are looking at their options for autumn 2021. We need to work hard to make sure the UK is attractive. That means providing clear information, working harder to promote the UK, and offering new forms of financial support.” European student recruitment