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To make a success of Turing, we need visa reform for exchange students

Three students sat on a patch of grass, with a laptop

The UK’s current visa system is putting off short term exchange students who want to come to study in the UK for between six months and a full academic year. Without visa reform, important opportunities for students at UK universities to study overseas could be lost, undermining the success of the new Turing scheme.

While those staying for less than six months can use a standard visitor visa, students staying longer need a student visa, which has strict language requirements and high costs.

New research by Universities UK (UUK) suggests that universities are already seeing a considerable shift among EU exchange students from year-long placements, to shorter, single-semester placements with some even opting out of coming to the UK altogether. As many as 12,900 students a year, or a third of total exchange students, could be in this position. Non-EU students were already less likely to come to the UK for a longer period of time.

UUK is therefore calling on the UK government to extend the time that short-term exchange students are permitted to stay in the UK on visitor visas from six months to one academic year to bring it in line with the time visiting academics can spend here. 

Exchange students gain academic, professional, and personal benefits from studying in this country and a thriving student exchange system also creates more opportunities for UK students to spend time at universities in other countries. They also have the potential to enrich and internationalise UK universities themselves by bringing global perspectives to campus life as well as creating lifelong links with the UK, its universities, and many other countries.

A government decision to extend the length of the visitor visa for students to one academic year would increase the benefits to the UK economy – already valued at an estimated £470 million a year – and create the conditions for the success of the new Turing scheme, the UK government’s initiative to provide funding for international opportunities in education and training across the world.

Vivienne Stern, Director of Universities UK International said:

“International students who come to the UK on short term exchanges are important to the UK for a number of reasons. Like full degree students, they add to the diversity on our campuses and contribute to our economy by spending money on goods and services while they are here, but they also create opportunities for UK students. Exchange students open up places in other universities around the world for our students to spend time studying abroad.

“Without inbound students, we risk losing opportunities for outbound visits. That’s why we want government to make sure that the visa system works for incoming exchange students. We think this is really important if we want to make the Government’s newly launched Turing Scheme a success.”

Maggie Wootton, Study Abroad Operations Manager at the University of Birmingham said:

“Incoming students are an integral part of international exchange programmes, unlocking study and work experiences for UK-based students at universities worldwide. Success of the Turing scheme depends on the availability of global placements for our students, meaning it is essential for the UK to be seen as an attractive destination of study.

“A reform to the Visitor immigration route would be a welcome as a more inclusive solution for this group of short-term study visitors. The HE sector is grateful to the UUK team for highlighting this important issue on behalf of Universities in the UK.”

Iona Murdoch, President of Erasmus Student Network UK said:

“We support Universities UK’s calls to reform the Visitor Immigration route for exchange students.

“The current 6-month period in place means students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds struggle to go abroad for long mobility opportunities and are unable to afford the upfront costs of the alternative visa types, therefore limiting their own opportunities to study abroad and limiting the contributions they bring. Longer visas will allow students more time to settle in and will have more time to contribute, engage and volunteer for the local community to benefit themselves as well as society more directly”

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