UK visa scheme for graduates of ‘top 50’ universities ‘elitist’

Offering two-year UK visas to graduates of elite global universities penalises poorer countries and may harm international student recruitment, critics warn

May 30, 2022

The UK’s new visa scheme for graduates of the world’s top-ranked universities is facing criticism for unfairly favouring alumni from richer nations and undercutting the country’s own international student strategy.

As part of a “high potential individual” visa route, anyone who graduated from leading non-UK universities in the past five years will be eligible for a work visa lasting two years, or three years if they hold a PhD from that institution.

Graduates will be able to apply regardless of where they were born, and will not need a job offer to apply, the government announced on 30 May.

To qualify, graduates must have attended a university that featured among the top 50 of at least two of the world’s main university rankings, including Times Higher Education, QS and the Shanghai Academic Rankings, in the year they graduated. Overall, a total of 37 universities – among them 20 US institutions, including Harvard, Yale, Columbia and Duke universities – are listed on the Home Office’s website.

The policy “provides independent validation for institutions”, a Home Office spokesperson said, adding that it “opens up the opportunity for new international universities to move up the ranks and join this list in the future”.

But the policy has faced criticism from academia and beyond over accusations of global elitism. Phil Baty, THE’s chief knowledge officer, said it was a “big problem” that none of the selected universities was from Africa, Latin America or South Asia.

Miraz Rahman, professor of medicinal chemistry at King’s College London, tweeted that “if they are going to use ranking for this visa scheme, they should have used regional rankings and select[ed] top graduates from Africa, South Asia, Europe, Middle East and America.

“That would have been a fairer system,” said Professor Rahman, adding: “Being born in the West doesn’t make anyone a top graduate.”

David Price, professor of mineral physics at UCL, who recently stepped down as vice-provost for research, said it made little sense to use university league tables that were focused largely on research performance as a means to sift graduates.

“Many excellent students don’t go to these universities as the tables used are focused on research not educational criteria,” he tweeted.

Others wondered about the logic of excluding graduates from universities that just missed the top 50 cut-off; for instance, the Technical University of Munich, which is currently placed 38th in THE’s ranking, does not appear on the list, while LMU Munich, ranked 32nd, does.

Alex Proudfoot, chief executive of Independent HE, which represents private higher education providers in the UK, said a “major problem” with the new visa scheme was that it “undercuts the UK’s international education strategy” to attract international students to British universities by offering new incentives to study outside the UK.

Giving “top 50 graduates” up to five years to apply for a UK visa meant that they would enjoy better terms than graduates on the post-study work visa reintroduced two years ago, who are allowed only two years after graduation to pursue this route, said Mr Proudfoot.

“I raised this with [Home Office] officials when it was first presented to the sector; UK degree holders should be offered the same five-year window, to level the playing field,” he said.

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Reader's comments (2)

Why not bring about such incentives for all the graduates of their very own UK universities, regardless of the mode of the study, in the first place? It looks indeed weird from an international graduate’s or candidate’s perspective that one is left out regardless of his/her profile and performance if they are studying mostly off-campus at a UK university while graduates of some so-called “top” schools are welcomed in.
The UK has the right to recruit whomsoever they want. It's their country!


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