Anglo-Indian ties strained by student visa policy

Ignoring concerns about the lack of post-study work opportunities for Indian students overlooks the huge contribution of Indian-born Britons to UK society, Jack Grove hears

February 24, 2017
Source: SkillTree
London’s deputy mayor for business Rajesh Agrawal is one of the UK’s most high-profile Indian-born Britons

Fifteen years ago, Rajesh Agrawal arrived from India at Heathrow Airport with just £200 in his pocket.

Today worth an estimated £90 million thanks to the foreign currency trading firm that he founded in 2005, the 39-year-old is now London’s deputy mayor for business.

On Wednesday (22 February), Agrawal was one of several Indian-born Britons honoured at a glitzy awards bash at a Mayfair hotel. Others included the Labour MP Virendra Sharma and fellow London School of Economics graduate Sanam Arora, president of the National Union of Indian Students and Alumni UK.

All of them spoke passionately about how universities were vitally important to India’s relationship with the UK, forming the bedrock of Britain’s relationship with a nation of 1 billion people.

As another British Indian winner – Dame Asha Khemka, principal and chief executive of West Nottinghamshire College Group – put it: “India made me, Britain enabled me.”

Most of the amazing success stories coming out of India involve higher education, with UK universities quite often playing a part at some point in the journey. In turn, it is UK business, politics and education that benefit in the end from the skills learned by Indians in this country.

With so much goodwill towards the UK and its education system in the room, the tragedy of the UK’s current situation became clear. Enrolments from India are down 50 per cent since 2010 at a time when more students than ever are going abroad. Home Office statistics out this week suggest that the situation is now even worse.

Dinesh Patnaik, India’s deputy high commissioner to the UK, even raised the prospect that Germany could displace the UK as the top destination for Indian students – it now has 10,000 student enrolments a year, with the number rising, while UK admissions have sunk to about 17,000, down from 40,000, he said.

With Indian students spending about £32,000 a year on average while studying the UK, “it is Britain who is the loser”, he added.

So why are numbers sinking when they should be rising? Theresa May led a trade mission to India in November, with several vice-chancellors invited to help spread the message that the “brightest and best” were welcome to study, while ministers have repeatedly said that there is no cap on international student numbers.

However, May’s decision to scrap the post-study work visa in 2012 when she was home secretary has clearly had a devastating impact on UK universities’ ability to recruit from India.

Without the guaranteed opportunity to work for two years after graduation – often in a fairly low-paid capacity – Indian students are going to places where they can: Australia, Canada, Germany and the US.

Without some international work experience, Indian graduates might struggle when they return home to join the labour market, said Arora.

“There are a billion people in India, so students know they need some global work experience to make them stand out to employers,” she told me.

“Students are consumers these days, and they demand a good education, but also the opportunity to supplement their education with work experience,” she added, saying that most Indian students had no intention of staying in the UK in the long term.

“Indian parents are very emotional,” an Indian academic told to me at the event.

“If they feel their children are not properly appreciated as students, then they will find somewhere else where they feel they get the right amount of respect,” he explained about why they were going elsewhere.

While many at the event – which was organised by SkillTree Knowledge Consortium, an Indian ed-tech firm that aims to audit 2,000 higher education institutions via a system of student satisfaction scores by 2020  and business and communication consultancy Sterling Media – felt that Anglo-Indian relations were still strong, several speeches raised concerns that the immigration status of Indian students in the UK was a problem, and that the UK did not fully recognise how important India was to the UK, where its firms employ more than 110,000 people.

Other countries do. Even US President Donald Trump, not exactly known for embracing the world, has spoken of the need for a fair post-study visa system for Indian students.

“If there is one country that the UK should open borders with, it is India,” said host Alpesh B. Patel.

“There is no other country where people have done more, established more, had greater honours and done more for their host country than India,” he said.

jack.grove@tesglobal.com

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Assistant Recruitment - Human Resources Office

University Of Nottingham Ningbo China

Outreach Officer

Gsm London

Professorship in Geomatics

Norwegian University Of Science & Technology -ntnu

Professor of European History

Newcastle University

Head of Department

University Of Chichester
See all jobs

Most Commented

men in office with feet on desk. Vintage

Three-quarters of respondents are dissatisfied with the people running their institutions

A face made of numbers looks over a university campus

From personalising tuition to performance management, the use of data is increasingly driving how institutions operate

students use laptops

Researchers say students who use computers score half a grade lower than those who write notes

Canal houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands

All three of England’s for-profit universities owned in Netherlands

As the country succeeds in attracting even more students from overseas, a mixture of demographics, ‘soft power’ concerns and local politics help explain its policy