UK Universities Face Devastating Loss as New Restrictions Threaten International Students

The future of international students studying in UK universities hangs in the balance as vice-chancellors brace themselves for the devastating impact of new restrictions imposed by the government. Despite opposition from various government departments, including the Department for Education, Treasury, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Department for International Trade, No 10 may side with the Home Office in supporting these restrictions that could result in an “act of economic self-harm”.

The current graduate student work visa, which allows international students to work for two years after graduation, has been instrumental in boosting student recruitment from India and Nigeria. However, the visa may now come under scrutiny as the government revisits ways to reduce net migration.

Imperial College London’s President, Prof Hugh Brady, passionately opposes any attempt to cut international student numbers. He views the economic impact of such a move as nonsensical, considering that a single cohort of international students is worth a net £25.9bn to the UK economy, with the government’s own export strategy aiming to increase that to £35bn by 2030. International students fuel the economy, create jobs, and support livelihoods.

Brady believes that international students enrich universities and cities in ways that go far beyond the realm of economics. They reduce the choice and quality for UK students, and damage the skills pipeline in key areas such as science and engineering. He likens limiting the number of international students to limiting the number of tourists allowed to visit the UK.

The situation has become even more pressing with the International Monetary Fund’s recent forecast of a shrinking UK economy in 2023 and the lowest growth among industrialised countries into 2024. Brady stresses that the overwhelming majority of international students leave the UK after graduation, with a 97.5% compliance rate that is the highest of any visa category.

One vice-chancellor close to the discussions warns that the outcome is not clear, with conflicting views both inside No 10 and among ministers. But one option favored by the home secretary, Suella Braverman, is said to be shortening the graduate work visa period from two years to as little as six months, making the UK less attractive to international students than competitors such as the US and Canada.

In conclusion, limiting the number of international students in the UK would be a gross act of economic self-harm for the country, and would disproportionately damage those places where the university is the main generator of growth. International students should be encouraged and welcomed, not limited and restricted.

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