I suppose everyone’s first reaction to the MAC report published on Tuesday (whose main findings we outline in a separate news item) was to focus, with much disappointment on the two most significant and most contentious and most headline grabbing of the recommendations – not to take students out of the net migration statistics (or ‘targets’ although they have interesting things to say on targets as a whole) and not to re-institute a generic post-study work scheme.
And yes we were disappointed at both too.
But on reflection there is much more to what is an extremely thorough and comprehensive report and one which (save for these two issues) supports and validates many if not all the arguments and evidence which so many of us have put forward in recent months and years.
- It confirms, of course, the huge economic value of international students to the UK
- It documents all the information we have all presented on the scale and importance of international students to the sector (to the ‘knowledge economy’ and helping to sustain critically important subject areas)
- It confirms that UK students have more positive than negative views on how international students affect their education
- It notes that the UK is the only country which has stricter rules on working whilst studying for students at FE colleges
- It finds that ‘there is no evidence of problems stemming from the impact of international students on the wider community’
- It confirms that given the age demographic international students are relatively unlikely to need to access health services (compared to the rest of the population).
- It notes the power and influence of alumni and ‘ongoing connections to the UK’ and (significantly)
- It recommends that the government and the sector should continue to work together to grow the number of international students (and that the economic benefits will then increase)
It also then goes on to recommend a number of not insignificant change to visas rules (extending the Tier 4 pilot to all postgraduate students, giving Doctoral students an automatic extra year for work on top of their study visas and extending all the rights and privileges for those able to switch from Tier 4 to Tier 2 to all graduating students, in the UK or on return home for a period of two years).
So all of this we much welcome. Perhaps it was expecting too much from what is essentially a technical advisory committee (of the Home Office) to seek to overturn, overnight, what have been two of the most significant planks of recent government immigration policy (PSW and the net migration issue)?
But it may well have opened the door to more discussion on these in the longer term (something our jointly written letter in today’s Guardian was seeking to achieve) and provided incontrovertible evidence to all that international students are great for the UK.
Hot on the heels of the MAC, however, has been another report launch which I attended this morning – this time by the Higher Education Commission, chaired by Lord Norton and with supporting speeches by, amongst others, Nicky Morgan MP (amongst many other things a former Secretary of State for Education and current Chair of the Treasury Select Committee.)
Again this is a very thorough and comprehensive report (‘Staying Ahead: are international students going down under’) but this inquiry sought to answer some slightly different questions ‘What are the obstacles to growing higher education exports’ and ‘What can be done to improve their value?’
And it includes a very detailed analysis of the UK’s current competitive position and barriers to growth and includes recommendations for:
- A new Home Office ‘friendly environment’ policy for international students with improved post study work options and streamlined visa processes
- Reduced compliance requirements and simplified procedures
- An expanded Education is GREAT campaign
- More English language test centres in more countries
- A proportion of foreign aid to be spent on scholarships for those from developing countries
- A cross-government programme to oversee a new growth strategy and
- A clear target for a substantial growth in numbers in the future.
So, a busy week on the international agenda and much food for thought. We have not got all that we asked or hoped for but it is quite possible that both reports may well be extremely helpful in the long term.