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Government must act now or risk losing European students for years to come

Vivienne Stern, Director of Universities UK international

Prospective university students from Europe must be given assurances that they will be given every opportunity to study in the UK, following one of the biggest changes to international student recruitment in a generation.

The introduction of a new points-based immigration system from 1 January 2021 is expected to result in a significant decline in the number of students from European countries learning in the UK. This comes at a time when universities are facing the continued challenges posed by Covid-19.

The UK government has predicted a decline in EU student numbers of roughly 20% as a result of the change to a points-based system, although this estimate was calculated before the impact of the pandemic. Other estimates signal an even greater potential loss in overseas talent.

Universities UK has been encouraged by recent commitments made to international students – such as opening up the new student route early to international students and the introduction of a new post-study work visa allowing international students to work in the UK for two years after graduation – but believes the next generation of overseas talent could slip through the cracks and be lost to global competitors unless immediate action is taken.

The student route, which opens today and is replacing the Tier 4 visa, will help to streamline the immigration process for international students. From today (5 October 2020) EU nationals can apply for their entry clearance applications, so they can enter the UK from 1 January 2021.

UUK and UUKi are working closely with the Home Office, Department for Education, British Council, and universities to ensure the changes are communicated to students, but there is more government can do to safeguard demand.

UUK is outlining five key steps that can be taken by policymakers to help stabilise the EU/EEA student demand: Five ways to stabilise EU/ EEA demand following the introduction of the new points-based system

These include;

  1. Continuing to promote the new student route so that all international students are aware of the changes being introduced. This is particularly important for EU / EEA students.
  2. Improving and extending the Study UK campaign into key markets in Europe by coordinating existing campaigns currently in European markets and increasing investment in Study UK to £20 million a year.
  3. Providing targeted financial support for EU students such as through an expanded or newly developed EU scholarship offer.
  4. Lowering immigration route application costs so they are in line with the UK’s international competitors.
  5. Committing to continually reviewing immigration requirements in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

More than 450,000 students from overseas study at UK universities each year, with one-third from EU countries. Their presence enriches the university experience for all students, contributing billions of pounds to the wider economy.

Vivienne Stern, Director of Universities UK international, said:

“Now is the time for UK government to demonstrate how much they value European students, who make up more than a third of all international students in the UK. We welcome improvements to the visa system, and the introduction of the graduate route but we must appreciate that, for EU students, there are new barriers to choosing to study in the UK. We need to be creative to ensure we can still attract these students.

“At this very moment European students are looking at their options for autumn 2021. We need to work hard to make sure the UK is attractive. That means providing clear information, working harder to promote the UK, and offering new forms of financial support.”

Research by HEPI, Kaplan and London Economics has found that one EU cohort can add as much as £5.1 billion to the UK economy through the direct and indirect economic benefits associated with student spending, a figure that amounts to an individual contribution of £87,000 per student.

Students looking at September 2021 start dates will begin in the next three months. It is forecast that 96% of EU students will come to the UK in the autumn intake.

Current UK immigration arrangements are among the most expensive in the world. There is a 405% difference between the student immigration route and the average cost of the leading science nations, according to the Royal Society.

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