Jo Johnson calls for four-year post-study UK work visa

Former universities minister also recommends that UK prioritises recruitment from India to remain competitive after pandemic

June 15, 2020
Jo Johnson, Minister for Universities and Science
Source: PA

The UK should introduce a four-year post-study work visa and a target to double the number of Indian students, if it is to remain competitive in global international student recruitment after Covid-19 and Brexit, according to former universities minister Jo Johnson.

In a new report, Universities open to the world: How to put the bounce back in Global Britain, Mr Johnson says that “universities have been the victim of competing and conflicting government policy objectives in Westminster over much of the last decade”, which have included increasing education exports as well as managing down overseas student numbers “in a misguided attempt to reduce overall net migration to below 100,000”.

“This confusion and ambivalence has created a volatile and unstable policy environment which helps explain why the UK – a perennial world leader in education – has gradually seen its share of the international education market slip over the past ten years,” he says.

The UK government is revising its latest international education strategy, which was published in March 2019 and set UK universities the target of attracting 600,000 international students by 2030, an increase of about 25 per cent on current numbers.

But, in the report, Mr Johnson says that the goal “lacked ambition”.

“By settling for growth rates significantly slower than the global market for international students had enjoyed over the previous decade (doubling in the past ten years), the targets tacitly accepted a steady loss in UK market share,” he says.

“The objectives set by the UK Government for the sector in May 2019 put us on a trajectory that would see our market share halve by 2030 and see the UK fall down the global rankings of destination countries.”

He recommends that the UK should set a goal to remain the number one study destination worldwide after the US, double post-study work visas from two to four years and launch a new marketing drive in India to double the number of students from the country by 2024. India should also be included alongside China in the low-risk country category, he says.

Mr Johnson, who is senior fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School and professorial fellow at King’s College London, also calls for an end to “hostile bureaucracy” in the Home Office. He says “it should be left to universities, as opposed to the government, to determine required baseline language ability” of foreign students, while the government should also delegate the visa processing function to universities too, meaning that institutions could undertake checks on new international students and “effectively attach visa approval to offer letters”.

He is the second former universities minister to push for a four-year post-study work visa; Chris Skidmore called for the policy change during a Times Higher Education webinar in April, saying it could help to reduce the huge slump in international enrolments predicted for the next academic year.

Speaking to THE, Mr Johnson said: “The government needs to realise that a two-year post-study work visa – while we obviously welcomed it a year ago – is sadly no longer going to be competitive in an environment where universities are chasing fewer international students than ever before and in which some countries – and I’m thinking particularly of Canada – have ‘gone all in’ in terms of going hell for leather after international students.

“The competitive environment has changed because of coronavirus and how other countries are responding to the intensification of competition. And we can’t stand still.”

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (3)

Let"s include those international students studying on part-time and/or distance learning programmes in this picture as well. When the topic is UK's market share in international education, the picture would not be complete if one component is neglected or overlooked once again, in my opinion. A post-study work visa opportunity combined with an increasing emphasis on online and blended learning approaches, gaining pace with the COVID19 impact, could be a firm incentive for a wider and more diverse range of international students.
How many European students are moving to India?
He line of reasoning shows his intellectually guided in the national growth. The more international student study in UK the increase in income tax which will boast UK economy and also rate UK education system as number in the world. The proposed 4 years post study work is a welcome development. Moreso, university should be given given the authority and privilege to issue visa for international students not home office.

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