There was a time when Indians would swoon at the prospect of studying at a British university – no, not just Oxford and Cambridge but others too. Now, Britain’s back on the verge of labelling foreign students ‘migrants’. As history goes, the empire strikes back! Indian students, careful in their measurement of scope for post-study employment, are favouring other international destinations to fulfill their academic aspirations.
A 50% drop in the number of Indian students going to the UK for further studies cannot be a coincidence – and what makes it worse is that academics are crying out loud at risking £14 billion of Britain’s economy to tightened immigration laws. Of course, UK’s Prime Minister Theresa May thinks the academics are delusional… but we, for sure, know who is.
Join me and a few other Indian students as we explore reasons why the UK is no longer the preferred destination for higher studies for us desi folk.
Going Back with a Heavy Heart: No Post-Study Employment
One of the most important factors when considering higher education overseas is the opportunity for post-study employment. This is where Britain is steadily losing out.
Firstly, the UK discontinued post-study work visas for foreign students in 2012, and in 2016, the former Prime Minister, David Cameron, made it abundantly clear that they do not intend to reintroduce it anytime soon. In his words, “We don’t need the brightest and best of students to come here and then do menial jobs. That’s not what our immigration system is for.” Subtly put.
This leaves international students with only two options if they wish to work in the UK: The first is to get a Tier 2 (General) work visa where international students educated in the UK are left competing with the the best workforce in Britain, Europe, and the rest of the world, or a Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) visa in case the UK university you’re studying at offers it and you have tons of money to invest in the UK.
A Tier 2 work visa is a hard chase given the logic it is primarily based on: to get a work visa, one needs to have a job and to have a job, an international student must have a work permit. A catch-22 phenomenon that can only be circumvented if you’re exceptionally networked and can convinced a licensed company to sponsor you and agree to pay you more than they have to pay any other fresh graduate.
Besides many other hard-to-beat eligibility criteria, Tier 2 work visas can only be issued if one earns a minimum of £25,000 per annum. This amount will be increased to £30,000 in April, 2017. Note, this is not a generalised sum – your remuneration depends on the level of skill or NQF level required for the job – whichever is higher of course. Needless to say, jobs which require skills that are subjective to judge, as is the case in creative and cultural industries, do not stand a chance. This leaves only medics, techies and financial wizards…
Does all this still sound doable? Let me add that an international student can only be hired after the employer ensures that no other qualified British applicant is up to the job.
Sandhya Iyer, Broadcast Journalism post graduate of Birmingham City University, adds with a heavy heart, “The main reason to study abroad is to seek a good job opportunity and contribute to the work force in that economy. Without it, the whole experience is pointless because that education is hardly recognised by people back home either.”
Just Cash Cows, Nothing Else
All universities love to show off the number of international students it admits and how many countries are represented in its student population. However, over the years, the reason for this boasting has changed with embarrassing effects.
International students have come a long way from being the intellectual powerhouses of universities to being cash cows supplying colleges and through it the country’s economy with billions in revenue every year. While this is true for most countries, it is especially evident in the way Britain home office treats its foreign students.
When Theresa May, Britain’s current PM, was in-charge of the home office, she made a striking point where she said that foreign students must stop using colleges as the “back door to a British visa” thus implying that students are no different from illegal immigrants who come hoping to study and contribute to academia instead of simply climbing onto trucks at Calais. To add fire to the fury, she continues to insist that students should be labelled migrants.
On a recent trade mission to India as PM, Theresa May refused to heed let alone address concern of the 50% drop in the number of Indian students studying at UK universities, most logically, due to the lack of post-study employment opportunities.
Keith Burnett, VC of Sheffield University, who was on the India trade mission too, disputes the apparent success of the deal and comments, “Indians who studied in the UK say we don’t act as if we are good friends any more. They hear that our universities are allowed to teach and take the money only if Indian students are rich enough not to need a job, or can graduate to a job that pays over the odds in some parts of the UK. To some, it seems fairly insulting.”
Is it worth the expenditure?
Having pointed out the odds, the UK does have some of the world’s best educational institutions and as Norwich-based Arjun Pathni adds, it is “one of the most welcoming places for international students”.
In terms of the integrity of research, practice, access to state-of-the-art infrastructure, exposure to the industry, and the quality of student life – very few countries can hold their ground against Britain.
The average cost per year of an undergraduate education in the UK is £11,987 while that of a post-graduate degree is £12,390. In fact, when compared to the US, Australia and New Zealand and the cost of education and living there – the UK is more approachable to Indian students especially since the style of education in India and Britain trace the same roots.
Nevertheless, do these advantages counter the odds of securing some post-study industry experience to validate an overseas education? This is a valid concern especially as other educational destinations offer employment opportunities which gives students time to work and clear loans – which is most often the primary source of funding a foreign education.
Sandhya gives us some perspective on why it’s important to work post study, “It’s not merely a question of making money. It’s about creating and adding value.”
The answer to why the UK is no longer a preferred destination is clear and laden with logic: why would loan funded Indian students pay hefty tuition fee in Sterling only to come back home, fight for a job in a market which does not give value to a British degree void of work experience, and work their youth away trying to clear their debt!?
Whichever way you look at it, it’s not a fair bargain at all. And Indian students do have a natural gift for weeding out bad deals, especially when it comes to making life decisions such as these.