Written by Kamal Preet Kaur
Granting students two years of Post-Study Work Visa after graduation, even if they are not able to travel to the country to physically attend the classes, offering the English language foundation course and a host of scholarships are among some of the measures adopted by the United Kingdom which may become the go-to destination for Indian students wishing to pursue higher education abroad, especially at a time when the American dream is in doldrums courtesy Covid-19.
The Department of Homeland Security’s new ICE policy forces international students to leave the US if their classes are taught entirely online because of coronavirus. On the contrary, Britain is doing its best to attract more international students as it navigates through the pandemic and Brexit.
In 2018-19, there were 485,645 international students in the UK — 342,620 of them from non-European Union countries. While Chinese students made up for the largest chunk (120,385), there were 26,685 students from India and 20,120 from the USA.
According to the latest HESA (Higher Education Statistics Agency) data, new enrolments from India increased by 28 per cent in 2017-18, representing a growth of 2,745 students. Given the steady decline in numbers from India from 2011 to 2016, the increase of 7 per cent (2016-17) and 28 per cent (2017-18) mark an important and notable shift.
Stats show that the vast majority of growth was through increase in postgraduate students (up 2,115), though there was also growth at undergraduate (570 students) and postgraduate research levels (60 students).
A huge 75 per cent of enrolments from India were at postgraduate level. This tallies closely to the research behaviour on the IDP Connect websites, where 83 per cent of traffic looking at the UK from India is at postgraduate level.
“There were about 40,000 Indian students in the UK in 2012-2013. However, the number went down to less than 20,000 when post study work visa was removed. With PSW back on cards, Indian student numbers have again seen the upward trend,” confirmed Rohit Vadhwana, First Secretary (Economic, Press and Information), HCI, London. “Large number of Indian students coming to the UK has helped in building a bridge of knowledge sharing, exchange of best practices in technology and innovation. They support the host country’s economy through their study and stay in the UK,” he added.
The fact that international students, including those from India, make an immense contribution to Britain’s GDP has been confirmed by Universities UK (UUK), an institution that represents 137 universities in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
According to Stephanie Harris, Head of International Engagement (non-EU), UUK International, “International students contribute £6.9 billion to the universities in tuition fees, and contribute much more to the wider economy. The economic impact of the international student includes, but is not limited to, £25.8 billion in gross output for the UK economy and £3.3 billion in tax revenues”.
UUK website mentions: “We want an immigration system that helps UK universities to attract international students and highly skilled staff from around the world. The decision to leave the EU gives the UK government an opportunity to re-think the immigration system and devise immigration policies that maximise the benefit all international university staff and students can bring to the UK.”
Responding to a question, a HESA official told the Indian Express, “17% of UK universities’ income in 2018-19 was from non-UK students’ tuition fees.”
International students spent £5.4 billion off-campus on goods and services, spending by such students supported 206,600 jobs all over the UK, visitors to international students spent an estimated £520 million generating an estimated knock-on impact of £1 billion in gross output, such students were responsible for £10.8 billion of UK export earnings.
The economic activity and employment sustained by international students’ off campus spending generated tax revenues equivalent to the salaries of 31,700 nurses or 25,000 police officers.
When asked how universities in the UK are preparing for internal student intake alongside the Covid crisis, Harris said, “Universities understand that this is an uncertain time for students, and are putting in place support mechanisms and a range of flexible options. The top priority is the safety and wellbeing of students and staff. Indian students who have questions about starting their studies in the UK should reach out to their admissions teams at the university they are hoping to attend. In addition, the UK government has made a significant number of concessions and has shown flexibility in arrangements for international students. This includes confirmation that international students will still be eligible to apply for the new graduate immigration route, which allows students to stay in the UK to work after graduation, even if they are not able to travel to the UK due to Covid-19 to start their course. For PhD students, this has recently been extended to three years.”
Vickie Warren, Interim Head of Content and Communications, University of Wolverhampton, said, “Through our Lord Paul Scholarship we are looking to reward those students who have achieved very good grades in their studies prior to entering their chosen Wolverhampton undergraduate or postgraduate taught programme. The University will be offering the Lord Paul Merit Based Scholarship to students who begin study with us in 2020-2021 academic year. In addition, we have a dedicated team based in India providing student support and guidance to help with applications and other queries”.
This university earns over 10 per cent of its revenue through internal students.
Confirming that these concessions will make a huge difference to students from India considering UK as their education destination, Baljinder Singh Rathour, director of London Online College said, “The UKVI announcement that from Summer 2021 onwards, any international student completing degree will be eligible for two years of PSW Visa will attract Indian students. It makes studying in the UK lucrative because students get an opportunity to not only recuperate their fees and expenses but also get valuable international work experience.”
“The fact that UK universities have eased their English language requirements making it easiest among all the competing countries like the US, Australia and Canada, and are offering foundation English courses combined with myriad scholarships will attract more people from India, specially Punjab,” said Gurpal Oppal, a renowned immigration solicitor with multiple offices in Punjab, Oppal has helped thousands of Indian students study abroad, especially in the UK.
Amjad Ali Khan, director of Blue Ribbon Overseas Educational Consultancy with its head office in Hyderabad, said that Innovation and Start-up visas offer huge opportunities for Indians.
“While Innovation Visa is for people who can invest £200,000 in a UK business, Start-Up visa is a golden chance for creative, and technology-minded people who after pursuing a PG degree in the UK can share an innovative business idea which can lead to a start-up. This way they get an opportunity to stay and work in the UK without spending loads of money. This eventually can lead to permanent settlement in the UK.”
Further, people involved in immigration services are in agreement that the point-based system that comes into effect from January 1, 2021, will make the visa system transparent and help students reacgh UK with confidence in spite of the uncertainty around coronavirus.