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Education groups disappointed as MAC report on international students fails to recommend creation of new post-study work visas

Date of Publication: 
12 September 2018

Long-awaited Migration Advisory Committee report released

Education groups disappointed as MAC report on international students fails to recommend creation of new post-study work visas

12 September 2018

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) yesterday released its long-awaited report on the impact of international students in the UK.

The 125-page report is here and you can access further documents related to the report, including a hefty 1,000+ pages of evidence submissions, from here.

While MAC notes that many of the evidence submissions it received called for a more generous regime for post-study work visas, the Committee's report does not recommend the creation of a separate such visa. MAC instead recommends some changes to the current system, including that PhD students should automatically be given one year's leave to remain after completion of studies, that the current MSc pilot should be extended so all these students have six months, and that the window of opportunity to apply for a Tier 2 visa be widened.

Overall, MAC finds that there is no doubt that international students offer positive economic benefit to the UK, including cross-subsidising the education of domestic students and research, and that opinion polls suggest most people in the UK have a favourable view of international students.

Around 750,000 students come to the UK to study each year and the Department for Education estimated their export value at £17.6 billion in 2015.

MAC helpfully includes an 8-point summary of its key recommendations in the report as follows:

  • To retain no cap on the numbers of international students.
  • Government and the sector should continue to work together to grow the number of international students.
  • International students should not be removed from the net migration statistics.
  • Rules of work while studying and dependant rights should remain unchanged.
  • Widening of the window in which applications for switches from Tier 4 to Tier 2 can be made.
  • Post-study leave period extended to six months for Master's students, though with a more thorough review of whether this is appropriate.
  • The 12 months leave to remain after PhD completion be incorporated into the original visa duration, subject to meeting progress requirements and course completion, for eligibility to remain in the UK after course end date. This would replace the existing Doctoral Extension scheme that allows the same rights but has to be applied for with associated visa costs.
  • Previous Tier 4 students, who passed their Level 6 (or above) qualification in the UK, should be entitled to a two-year period from course completion during which they can apply out-of-country for a Tier 2 visa, under the same rules as current in-country Tier 4 to Tier 2 switches.

The Guardian reported that education groups and business representatives expressed widespread disappointment at MAC's recommendations.

Professor Dame Janet Beer of Universities UK said in a press release: "While the report recognises the enormous contribution international students make to life in the UK, we are disappointed with its main recommendations."

She continued: "The ability to work in a skilled job for a limited period after graduation is, for many prospective international students, an important part of the overall package when deciding where to study. Universities UK called last week for a new graduate visa that would make the UK more attractive to students and would allow a wider range of employers, in all parts of the UK, to benefit from access to talented graduates from around the world. This improved post-study visa would put us on a par with what is offered by countries such as the US, Canada and Australia."

Vivienne Stern, the director of Universities UK International, told Professionals in International Education (PIE) News: "I think they've missed an opportunity, they've missed the logical conclusion of their own argument. If it's a good thing if the UK attracts more international students, and as they also say, a better post-study work offer would increase demand, this is the change they need to take."

Universities Scotland said the affirmation of the value of international students in the report needed to be "backed up with substantive policy change".

Destination for Education, which works to defend UK universities' freedom to recruit international students, called the report a "huge missed opportunity".

James Pitman of Destination for Education said in a press release: "We had hoped the Committee would set out meaningful recommendations to help the UK recover market share. But maintaining the status quo will do nothing to restore Britain's leadership in education exports. Our international competitors will continue to outperform us."

Nichola Carter of Carter Thomas Solicitors told Free Movement: "The recommendations by the MAC, which amount to the continuation of a fairly restrictive approach rather than a bold new approach to post-study work opportunities and the removal of international students from the net migration targets, is disappointing".