The UK is a very popular destination for overseas students. Despite the high cost of living, it’s a stable, safe and secure country with a variety of well renowned colleges and universities with high teaching standards. The UK comes only second to the USA for the number of international students it receives. International students choose the UK because of its “reputation for having a quality higher education system” and the fact that UK based degrees are recognised worldwide, with students reiterating this as they report being satisfied with the quality of the HE system and their experiences according to a spokesperson for the organisation University UK.
Whilst the UK offers a high standard of globally renowned education, studying in the UK also comes with high fees. EU students pay the same tuition fees as UK based (national) students but non-EU international students fall into a different bracket. On average, an international student at undergraduate level will have to pay £11,987 per year to study in the UK. Certain courses such as medicine can cost four times as much for a non-EU student than those paying home or EU fees, totaling £35,00 a year in comparison to £9,000 at most for UK and home students and on top of this; course fees are not always fixed so they may be subject to changes during the course of your studies (see The Guardian/BBC).
Add on top of the course fees themselves additional costs such as air fare, the cost of purchasing everything you can’t bring over yourself and also considering the difference in currencies and standards of living in terms of relative pricing; it’s a pricey way to study. There are students that are either able to afford to come or be granted a governmental or non-governmental scholarship either in the UK or overseas yet international students are facing increasing visa restrictions.
Harsh visa restrictions
In addition to high tuition fees, strict immigration regulations have been introduced which further affect current and potential international students. Back in 2012, the two year post-study work visas for graduates was eliminated. Post-graduation you are now permitted to stay for four months depending on your course. To stay longer you would require sponsorship to work or other means to stay in the UK. Now, as part of a government crackdown to cut down abuse of the system (“visa fraud“), further new restrictions affecting international students have been introduced amongst other changes to immigration policy in an attempt to lower the rate of EU and non-EU based immigration to the UK.
New restrictions affecting FE students for example now stipulate that non-EU FE students at UK public colleges can no longer work whilst studying (this was 10 hours a week and full time during holidays) (as of August 2015) and that they must first leave the UK in order to apply for a work visa to live and work in the UK after completing their studies (as of November 2015). In addition to this, one other particular group of students are at a huge disadvantage are HE international STEM students – those studying Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – who can no longer complete their training (as of July 2015).
STEM Students – high fees, little training
STEM students are particularly interested in studying in the UK for the high quality of education which was quoted by 51% of students in a recent study (rather than the idea of “UK career prospects”) (see The British Council). According to Educating Beyond Borders, most HE international students choose vocational based qualifications, enrolling for courses which require “practical” skill based training within industries and professions for which they are studying to later work in. Vocational HR courses comprise skills based training required for trades and highly-skilled professions such as engineering and architecture and so such training is an essential part of their education. However, due to work restrictions affecting international students, STEM students cannot undertake this training. Without such crucial training, their studies are essentially incomplete. They don’t acquire the full training and qualifications which they pay tens of thousands of pounds for and which they need to be fully qualified professionals.
Regardless of their reason for choosing the UK as their place of study (whether for future career purposes or not), if students wish to come to the UK and they have funding, they should be able to come and expect to gain the full qualifications which they are paying or being paid to earn – subject only to their own personal ability to follow the course and adequately meet course requirements. Adding to that, students and graduates invest a significant amount of time, money and skills into the UK and its education system. They should be allowed to live and work in the UK. It is grossly unfair to charge students such astronomical fees for incomplete training and on top of that to limit so strictly their ability to stay in the UK.
These policies are simply part of a wider “attack” on international students who – as another “source” of migration figures for the government – represent another “target” for its immigration campaign. The government is desperately trying to cut the number of people coming to the UK at all costs – regardless of the affect on the UK culturally, academically, socially, professionally, politically and economically and regardless of the UK’s moral and ethical responsibilities. The UK government has figures it wants to cut without further deeper consideration – down to 100,000 to be precise. Yet the fact is that even the UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has himself “warned” David Cameron about the affect that a decrease in the number of overseas students numbers “risks jeopardising Britain’s reputation abroad” and – as a government insider told Channel 4 News – of some STEM departments being closed down at certain universities due to a lack of economic viability without the income generated from overseas students.
Philip Hammond has therefore called for international student figures to be left out of migration figures as it causes “immense damage”. I’d add that whilst this is a clear yes – we must do this – the wider problem is the government and their immigration policy itself which is devoid of common sense and mercy. The UK government’s immigration policy is what is what is doing “immense damage” to Britain as a whole in many different ways. That’s another long story for another day but let’s just think briefly about its treatment of EU migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. The UK has a fantastic reputation for both tolerance and multiculturalism and for its high standard of education. We must remove students from such net migration figures but we must also fight to change overall migration policies and attitudes – within and outside of politics.
So, what can we do in practical terms to help STEM and other overseas students?
- Sign the Educating Beyond Borders petition to let HE STEM students complete their vocational studies in the UK
- Contact your local MP if you’re in the UK – call, email, tweet and write to them asking them get to sign the current motion to remove international students from net migration targets. Share the information link with your friends, family and colleagues
- Blog, tweet, write, share and get your voice heard as always!
Education is freedom; it’s empowerment, it’s independence, it’s people’s future. Education is vital – it’s a human right and should be open to everyone regardless of nationality, background or economic status. Astronomical university fees is another big issue (as is harsh immigration controls) but whilst the campaign is rolling: let’s fight to get these students what they’ve paid for. It’s their right. Speak out and get signing!
Sources and information:
ICEF Monitor (2015) UK Confirms Elimination of Work Rights for Non-EU Students in Higher Education
Study London (2016) Working in London and The UK
The British Council (2015) UK Education Top Attraction for International STEM Students
Top Universities (2015) How Much Does It Cost to Study in the UK?