Universities must collect “hard evidence” to prove that the UK is no longer a welcoming place for international students if the sector is to effectively challenge government policies on immigration, a leading higher education scholar has claimed.
Simon Marginson, professor of international higher education at the UCL Institute of Education, said the sector must move beyond anecdotal evidence, which has “little value”, if it is to have a voice in the “hostile immigration debate” – even if this means creating “negative publicity for the UK in the short term”.
Speaking at the UK Council for International Student Affairs annual conference at the University of Sussex on 1 July, Professor Marginson listed the “problems and barriers” affecting non-European Union students who want to study in the UK, which included healthcare charges, landlord checks of student status and slow and expensive visa processing.
“If we are to effectively challenge these policies, and this increasingly tough system of regulation – which has clearly been designed to slow the flow of student numbers – we need hard evidence,” he said.
“Public statements often refer to anecdotal evidence that the UK is no longer seen as a welcoming place in international markets. We need hard, survey-based evidence from across the world on a comprehensive scale.”
He added: “Anecdotal evidence has little value. We need data that show which markets are most affected and by how much, and to what extent that prospective students are shifting to other markets. We need to collect and publish such data even if it means that there will be some negative publicity for the UK in the short term. Research is not there to make us feel good, it is there to ground and drive our development and policy strategies.”
He added that universities should improve graduate employability in the source countries of overseas students as well as in the UK if they want to continue increasing their international student intake.
“The country ought to transform international graduate work and careers from a minus into a plus, and to encourage institutions to focus on enhancing graduate employability, both in the source countries and in the UK. This would be good for the students, and would make UK international education more globally competitive,” he said.
Professor Marginson also spoke about the UK’s global position in research and said it was “worrying” that the UK’s pattern of collaboration is East Asia is “much weaker” than that of the other main English-speaking countries.
“UK researchers are the group most successful in the competition for European research funding. One cause and also consequence of this success is that the UK collaborates heavily with European colleagues. The opportunity cost is the low rate of collaboration in Asia.”