UK at risk of losing top talent

Research by the Erasmus overseas study programme showed that students going overseas to study are more likely to want to work abroad

As student expectations and choices of study continue to be influenced by increasing university fees and employment prospects, post-graduate obligations on universities to ensure the long-term success of students, for both UK-based students and a rising number of overseas graduates, continue to increase.

Research carried out by the Erasmus overseas study programme showed that in Europe, students that go overseas to study are more likely to want to work abroad and for many there is a growing interest in setting up a business and settling in their country of study.

Many UK universities have developed extensive business networks and offer enterprise services to students so that they can channel their career and business ambitions but, for international students intending to set up a business in the UK, the legalities and practicalities can require separate specialised support.

Moore Blatch immigration lawyer, Simon Kenny said: “The options by which overseas students can work in the UK after study are narrowing. The main options for student work-based immigration is now to either persuade a UK employer to issue sponsorship and employ them, or for a student to start a business.”

Graduates with genuine, credible business ideas and entrepreneurial skills that a UK university is prepared to endorse,can apply for permission to stay within the Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur category. Participating universities can decide what the criteria should be to issue such a sponsorship. It is possible for each authorised institution to provide sponsorship to up to 10 graduates and researchers annually.

But how are universities preparing overseas students for the choices that lay ahead and more importantly helping to encourage the entrepreneurial skill needed for overseas student to succeed in the UK and their chosen business?

Former head of a Dorset enterprise centre supporting university students interested in starting up a business, Matt Desmier commented: “Work with overseas students must begin early, and as well as instilling an understanding of the immigration process and their obligations, students will also require practical and softer business skills to succeed in the UK.”

Both Matt and Simon would encourage universities to put in place dedicated support for overseas students, which could include:

  • Regular seminar/training programme – exposing students to influential business people.
  • A mentoring scheme supported by overseas entrepreneurs that have been successful in the UK, as well as the local business community, including business groups.
  • Links with overseas enterprise centres to open and increase channels of work and encourage reciprocal working.
  • Advice clinics/workshops which assist overseas students more practically and help them to progress business ideas on a one-to-one basis.

Permission to endorse graduate entrepreneurs is currently held by 98 institutions. If universities do not meet their immigration responsibilities, their permission may be cancelled and they would become unable to endorse graduate entrepreneurs until the next full financial year – so it’s vital that institutions get this element of support right as well.

There is also a direct duty imposed on universities to UK Visas and Immigration to monitor the progress of graduates who have received an endorsement.The university must maintain a record of the endorsement selection process and stay in contact with the graduate, assessing their progress at least every three months. If the graduate falls out of contact, misses a review without permission, leaves this immigration category or is believed to be breaching their immigration permission, there is a specific obligation to advise UK Visas and Immigration of this.

Might universities potentially face criticism for choosing business ideas which are not appropriate? Supporting students with business ideas which ultimately fail will not, in itself cause a compliance issue for the university, however it may be seen as a weakness in the selection criteria if doing so consistently.

“Putting in place some of the initiatives recommended above will help avoid poor selection. These processes can enable Universities to decipher the students that are committed to business success in the UK – making the immigration selection process much easier for them,” concluded Simon.

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