Opinion: Why Government Must Support Universities' International Students

23 May 2024
Time to read
5 minute read
Prof Helen langton holding a microphone and speaking, The backdrop banner says 'a university for a changing world'
Professor Helen Langton MBE

When the Home Secretary announced a rapid review into the graduate visa route in March this year, he did so with suspicions that it was being abused, “driven more by a desire for immigration rather than education”, were the words he used.

In the last week, the Migration Advisory Committee has returned its findings of the review, and it is unequivocal in its response.

Not only did it find no evidence of widespread abuse specifically for the graduate route, it also found the risk of such abuse was relatively low and concluded that the graduate route is “not undermining the integrity of and quality of the UK higher education system”.

Furthermore, it confirmed that restrictions introduced in January this year on international students bringing their dependents with them had already hit the numbers of international students studying in the UK, and warned that further restricting the route to higher education for learners coming from overseas “could put many universities at financial risk”.

We wholeheartedly welcome the Committee’s recommendations, and implore the Government to follow its recommendation in keeping the graduate visa route as it is.

The graduate visa route was introduced in July 2021, allowing students to stay for two years (or three years for PhD students) after graduation, helping them find or look for work in the UK beyond their studies.

As Suffolk’s only university, we want to make our wonderful county an attractive place for all students – whether domestic or international – to study, work and live, and our small but growing international community brings so much to our University, our hometown in Ipswich and our county.

Students can be sure their education at the University of Suffolk gives them the skills, knowledge and behaviours to thrive in their chosen career, meet new people, make new friends, and experience the beauty of our corner of the UK.

Furthermore, international students enrich our campus life and the experience of our domestic students, allowing all our learners to enjoy different cultures, faiths and experiences.

At the University of Suffolk, we pride ourselves on ensuring our courses prepare learners for their chosen careers beyond graduation, be that through careers support, internship opportunities, work placements and strong employer links.

This was recently celebrated on the national stage when we came second for Career Prospects in the What Uni Student Choice Awards, winning the Career and Placements award, and were ranked first nationally for ‘quality of work’ measures in the spring 2023 Higher Education Statistics Agency graduate outcomes data.

This extends to our international students too, ensuring they are well-prepared for working life beyond their time on campus, with our alumni enjoying careers in the health sector, commercial business, digital and IT industries and many others. They bring vital skills and perspectives which we should be celebrating, not hindering.

The Migration Advisory Committee’s report did raise concerns about poor practices by some agents and sub-agents who recruit international students to UK universities.

We have signed up to the UK Agent Quality Framework Pledge, which ensures we promote best practice among our agents abroad, with robust training and measures to ensure applicants are equipped with accurate knowledge to underpin their choice.

The international student community is vital to UK universities, including here in Suffolk, and it is an area we would like to grow as we continue on our upward trajectory. Ensuring our institution is welcoming to overseas learners benefits us all.

That’s why on Monday I wrote to all MPs in Suffolk urging them to support the Migration Advisory Committee’s recommendations to retain the graduate route in its current form. I would encourage the next government of whatever political persuasion to do the same, and stop further harm to our Higher Education sector which is already battling so many challenges.

Professor Helen Langton MBE
University of Suffolk Vice-Chancellor and CEO

A version of this opinion editorial first appeared on the East Anglian Daily Times and Ipswich Star websites on Thursday 23 May 2024.

For press enquiries, please contact: press@uos.ac.uk