Is the UK losing its appeal
as a study destination
for international

This Thursday is A-level results day in the UK, and students across the country will find out whether they have been accepted into their top choice university to study for a degree.

Students who do not meet the grade requirements of a conditional offer from a university can secure an alternative place on an undergraduate course by applying through ‘clearing’.  Universities also use the clearing process to recruit students for places which have not already been filled. Tens of thousands of students are expected to end up in clearing this year amid a predicted drop in top grades, as the government attempts to get grade standards back to pre-pandemic levels.

Reports in the press this week have alleged that some of the country’s top universities are offering more clearing places to international students than British applicants this year, and admissions experts have warned that universities are likely to shun domestic students in favour of applicants from overseas who pay up to four times more in fees.

However, recent changes to the immigration rules mean that there are now more barriers to studying in the UK for foreign nationals, which could discourage people from applying for a Student visa.

Experts in the higher education sector have warned that these changes mean the UK risks losing out to rival English-speaking countries such as the US, Canada and Australia when it comes to the recruitment of international students. Clare Marchant, Chief Executive of the higher education admissions service UCAS said that Britain should warmly welcome international students who want to take undergraduate degrees in the UK, as the sector is competing in a global market.

Many institutions have become increasingly reliant on overseas student recruitment to help cover rising costs. But do the tighter immigration rules mean the UK is losing its appeal as a study destination for international students?

Changes to the UK’s Student route

Recent changes to the UK’s immigration rules have introduced tighter restrictions on international students coming to the UK via the Student route. The changes are part of a wider government attempt to reduce overall net migration figures which reached a record high last year.

In a Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules published in July it was announced that international students will have their right to bring dependant family members to the UK removed, unless they are on postgraduate courses currently designed as research programmes. It is worth noting that the rules already prohibitied undergraduate students from bringing dependants, but the new stricter rules could potentially drive thousands of postgraduate students to study elsewhere as these students tend to be older and more likely to have families.

The government has also removed the ability for international students to switch out of the Student route into work routes before their studies have been completed. This change seeks to dispel the Home Office’s concern that too many people were using the Student route as a “backdoor route to work in the UK”. However, this loss of flexibility could be off-putting for some applicants.

As well as the above changes, the Home Office is set to introduce significant increases to some immigration fees, meaning some overseas applicants could soon find themselves priced out of a UK education. Although an implementation date has not yet been announced, Student visa fees are set to rise by at least 20%, and the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) rate for students will be increased from £470 to £776 per year.

The value of international students in the UK

Each year, the UK welcomes thousands of international students to study undergraduate and postgraduate courses at its higher education institutions. In the year ending March 2023 there were 480,000 sponsored study visas granted to main applicants, 22% higher than in the previous year.

International students make a significant contribution to the UK’s higher education sector and the wider economy each year. Tuition fees for international students are significantly higher than the fees for domestic students, which are capped at £9,250 a year in England.

It is estimated that international students boosted the UK economy by £42bn in 2021/2, rising by a third in three years as more students chose the UK as a study destination. Those that choose to remain in the UK after completing their studies also continue their contributions to the economy by joining the workforce.

This high economic value is just one reason why experts are urging the government to embrace international students or lose them to other countries.

Benefits of studying in UK

Despite the government’s efforts to cut net migration having a less than favourable impact on students, there are still many benefits to studying in the UK for those that can meet the eligibility requirements.

The UK is home to some of the world’s leading universities, and offers a world class education with globally recognisable qualifications. There are also opportunities for students to join the world of work and gain valuable work experience during their stay. Most international students in the UK on a Student visa are permitted to work alongside their studies in some capacity, although restrictions do apply.

Students who wish to remain in the UK and work, or look for work, after completing their studies can apply for a Graduate visa without having to leave the UK. This post-study visa gives you permission to stay in the UK for at least two years after completing an eligible course. During this time you are free to work in most jobs without requiring sponsorship from your employer.

Graduates can also switch into other work routes, such as the Skilled Worker route, if they find work that meets the requirements. The Skilled Worker route also leads to settlement after five years. For those who wish to stay in the UK permanently, a Student visa could be the start of your journey towards settlement and eventually citizenship.

Immigration support for international students

If you have been offered a place on a course by a licensed student sponsor and require assistance in applying for your Student visa, Smith Stone Walters can help.

To speak to an immigration expert, please contact us today.

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