Call for London to trial three-in-one visas for overseas students

Single visa for three stages of higher education would keep students in UK without facing ‘bureaucratic burden’ of applying for new visa, according to London Higher

October 12, 2022

Students should be allowed to complete up to three courses on a single visa to ensure the UK does not fall behind its rivals in attracting overseas talent, according to a new policy proposal from London Higher.

Diana Beech, chief executive of the umbrella body that represents 50 institutions in the capital, has warned that UK higher education will “lose out financially” if action is not taken to further boost the country’s appeal abroad.

In a new report, published on 12 October, the organisation argues that overseas students face a “bureaucratic burden” and significant expense by having to reapply for study visas for each stage of their higher education.

In response, the report calls for the piloting of a new single pathway student visa in London to make it easier for international students to take an undergraduate degree in the UK and then stay in the country to continue on to postgraduate qualifications – similar to a scheme currently offered in New Zealand.

This would give incoming students “choice, opportunity and much-needed flexibility”, providing them with “not just a passport to study in the UK but to build their lives here”, the report argues.

Dr Beech, a former adviser to universities ministers, said the visa would be key to enhancing the UK’s appeal to international talent, give the country the edge over growing competitor markets, and “send a clear signal to the wider world that Britain is both open and a beacon of future opportunity”.

“With competitor markets elsewhere in the world such as Australia and New Zealand now reopening and doing their best to capitalise on global market share, it is clear the UK will lose out financially if we don’t do something soon to stake our place as the global destination of choice for overseas students,” she added.

She also said it would align with the government’s “Global Britain” agenda and its commitment to make it easier for the brightest and best to come to the UK, as well as boosting productivity across all economic sectors.

Dr Beech acknowledged the “growing scepticism” around international student numbers and said that the sector must do its part to show how they can be accommodated without penalising UK students.

“This means doubling-down on sustainable planning, embracing fair access and shining a laser-like focus on business and enterprise to give international students the best chance of staying in the UK and applying their skills to UK industry,” she added.

The report also calls for London to have its own international education strategy, including a dedicated champion, similar to the UK International Education Champion, currently Sir Steve Smith, who is tasked with increasing the UK’s international education exports.

This role – which would either sit in a central government team or be established under the Mayor of London – would “enable closer cooperation with relevant local stakeholders to address London’s particular challenges, as well as help the region and its higher education providers harness vital opportunities for growth”, the report states.

Another recommendation would see up-to-date information from universities on the specific cost of living in their respective London boroughs to “dispel myths about the city’s affordability for international students” and allow them to prepare accordingly.

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