University leaders across Britain are pursuing changes in the UK visa system to enable international students to stay and work for two years after graduation.
Worth an estimated £26 billion to the economy, Universities UK (UUK) warns overseas students may seek alternative destinations for work, such as the United States, Canada and Australia, which grant such students work permits post-graduation.
In a statement to parliament, UUK declared: “The UK remains an extremely popular destination for international students, attracting more students from abroad except the much larger US.
“However, the UK’s closest competitors, such as the USA, Australia, France and Germany, all continue to grow at a faster rate than the UK.”
Professor Sir Steve Smith of UUK, said the UK was “missing out” on the future growth of an ever-increasing number of university students from around the world.
International students can work in the UK after graduating, however face various thresholds, including those on: how much graduates must be earning; time limits for moving into work; and requirements for sponsorship.
Research from UCL’s Centre for Global Higher Education found an increasing number of international students heading towards Australia than the UK.
UK higher education is still highly valued internationally, but the government has held down the growth of international student numbers for five years, by limiting new student numbers and post-study work visas
– Professor Simon Marginson
Professor Simon Marginson, leading the investigation, said: “UK higher education is still highly valued internationally, but the government has held down the growth of international student numbers for five years, by limiting new student numbers and post-study work visas”.
Overall, over the past decade, the number of international students coming to the UK has risen by 3%, compared to 40% in the US, 45% in Australia, and 57% in Canada.
Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group of universities, said: “We support the call to give more international graduates the opportunity to work in the UK for a set period, once they finish their studies. This move would help preserve the UK’s status as a magnet for global talent.”
UUK says more than 200,000 jobs are supported by the spending of overseas students. Responding to the worries of academics, a Home Office spokeswoman said: “There is no limit on the number of genuine international students who can come to study in the UK.
“We recognise the cultural and financial contribution which international students make to the UK, which is why we have developed an excellent post-study offer.
“Graduates can stay if they get a graduate level job, get an internship or apply to set up a business in the UK.
“Completing PhD students are also able to stay for an additional year to gain work experience or set up as an entrepreneur.”