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The government's announcement of a major review of the National Student Survey signals a worrying shift in the HE regulatory landscape, warns Jon Scott, higher education consultant and former Pro Vice-Chancellor (student experience) at the University of Leicester.
Statements from ministers this week have made it clear that higher education in England is facing significant reforms, re-setting its focus towards helping to plug the UK's skills gaps and rebuilding the economy. Fariba Soetan, Policy Lead for Research and Innovation at the National Centre for Universities and Business, argues that the proposed changes bring a welcome focus on graduate outcomes and supporting the careers of young people.
As concern continues to grow over the potential impact of immigration changes on the UK's global reputation as a welcoming study destination, the UK Council for International Student Affairs has launched a Manifesto for International Students that urges a future government to take steps to re-establish trust in Britain among overseas students. Ukcisa's chief executive Dominic Scott outlines the issues addressed in the Manifesto.
Some in the international recruitment world believe that the UK could really be performing far, far better if we could put behind us all of the immigration and net migration rhetoric and rule changes of the past couple of years. We need to stop banging on about all the problems and stop washing our dirty linen in public and just focus on our strengths, they say.
Others feel that we do need to keep up the pressure on government to recognise the damage which has been done – and especially in some major markets such as India – with the increasingly complex and restrictive rules, the abolition of the Post Study Work scheme, and other measures and new ones which are now coming in following the latest Immigration Act.
In the Manifesto which we have published this week we have attempted to strike a balance and say that the UK is really successful in this ‘industry’ - but yes we have taken a knock in recent years and a number of key areas really do need to be reviewed if we are to rebuild our global reputation, re-establish trust in the UK and re-position ourselves as the leading destination for international students.
We can and do need to do this as international education is one of the UK’s most successful export industries and one with huge growth potential.
That is why we have put together what we think are a number of fundamental principles and recommendations – on behalf of international students and all those who work with them – to share with colleagues in universities and colleges throughout the UK as our ‘common agenda’. We are also sending copies to senior officials in the Home Office, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills and the Scottish Government and to approaching 100 MPs with interests in international students. We will be promoting the Manifesto widely direct to international students to demonstrate to them that there is a community in the UK which is on their side and willing to speak up for their interests.
While we have had some tricky days, yet more changes are just around the corner. A new health service levy is about to be introduced, we already have the first phase of landlord immigration checks, and rights of appeal have been abolished and replaced with ‘administrative reviews’. From March we now find that all students will only receive essentially a 30 day visa which will have to be confirmed by the collection of Biometric Immigration Documents from post offices within 10 days of their arrival – just one more hurdle when attempting registration, opening a bank account, finding somewhere to live and for many registering with the police. All of these seem like more hoops and hurdles which could make the UK seem even less welcoming.
So, as we move towards an election, a new government and possibly new thinking, we are urging all to read the Manifesto, to use it with local case studies of their own when talking to influential local contacts, and help us achieve really positive change in the future.
1. The whole of government needs to recognise and celebrate the financial, cultural and intellectual value of international students to the UK.
2. After a period of reform, international students should now be excluded from all further policy and debate on reducing net migration.
3. The rules and procedures governing international students have become so complex that they now require fundamental review.
4. Further measures being introduced by the Immigration Act need to be carefully monitored and if found to be counter-productive, urgently withdrawn.
5. Part-time work entitlements for international students need to be standardized.
6. All students at graduate or postgraduate level should be entitled to a limited period of post study work in the UK (and/or longer on their current visas to find Tier 2 jobs).
7. No student who has not been found to be at fault should have their visa curtailed merely because their sponsor has lost their licence.
8. All students should have access to some form of student protection scheme and independent arbitration when disputes cannot be resolved internally.
9. All students to be eligible for visa concessions and special support at times of national crisis or when faced with particular difficulties.
10. Government should develop and implement a global communications campaign and clear strategy to re-assure international students that they arewelcome in the UK.
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