A major new survey of international graduates from UK universities is billed as providing the “final piece of evidence” needed to persuade the government to bring back post-study work visas.
Vivienne Stern, director of Universities UK International, which commissioned the report, said that it illustrates why the UK is “tripping over our feet” by not offering a better deal to international students.
A total of 16,199 international graduates from 58 UK institutions, of 189 nationalities, participated in the survey, making it the “first report of its kind” to examine the medium-term outcomes of overseas graduates on such a scale.
The report, published on 16 July, shows that taking in international students “pays dividends for the whole country”, said Ms Stern. “I would point to their desire to maintain professional and business links, their desire to maintain research links and to come for tourism [after graduation]. We benefit, they benefit, the country benefits. It’s a kind of win, win, win.”
The results suggest that overseas graduates from UK universities go on to successful and satisfying careers – 69 per cent said that they progressed more quickly in their career than peers educated elsewhere, 82 per cent that their degree was worth the investment and 83 per cent that it helped them get their job.
The results also show that international graduates are valuable “ambassadors” for the UK – 77 per cent said that they are more likely to do business with the UK after studying here and 88 per cent plan to visit for holidays or leisure.
But international student recruitment has stagnated, despite the positive experience of overseas graduates and previous data suggesting that the UK ranks favourably compared with its key global rivals such as the US and Australia.
Many in the UK sector blame this on the decision to abolish post-study work visas, taken in 2012 when Theresa May was home secretary. The US, Canada and Australia all have more generous offers on post-study work than the UK.
However, a proposed amendment to the immigration bill, championed by former Conservative universities minister Jo Johnson and Labour MP Paul Blomfield, would see the return of post-study work visas.
These visas would allow overseas students to stay in the UK “to search for work or gain work experience” for “a period of at least two years” after the completion of their courses.
“If [the amendment] isn’t accepted when the immigration bill returns to Parliament, I will eat my hat. I would not be surprised if a new prime minister wanted to do something even sooner than that,” said Ms Stern.
“I think this report is the final piece of evidence just to show...why are we holding ourselves back when everybody benefits from international students choosing the UK?”
Chris Skidmore, the universities minister, writes in the foreword to the report that the government “fully recognises the benefits” that international students bring to the UK’s higher education sector and that they can be a “great asset” for the UK for “a lifetime after graduation”, helping to enhance the country’s soft power.
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