It’s not a great time to be a university in the UK. First came Brexit, with its impact on European students who now prefer destinations like the Netherlands, which are much cheaper and still provide top-notch education. Then came the pandemic, with remote lectures and enraged students asking for their money back.
Now, the government has decided that the education sector drives up migration numbers, and wants none of that. So overseas students are no longer allowed to bring family members with them through the dependants’ route. There’s an exception only for PhD students or those in research-led masters courses.
The government claimed some were abusing the system, but it’s hard to see how someone would enrol and pay for a master’s programme in the UK just so they can bring their partner here. The countries with the highest number of dependants coming with enrolled students were Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
On top of that, overseas students won’t be able to switch from the student visa route to work routes until they’re done with their studies under the new plans. This was a useful avenue enabling many students to stay in the UK and keep their knowledge and skills within the country.
Predictably, universities have come out denouncing these moves and the impact they will have on the universities’ finances. Overseas students, needless to say, pay the highest fees, and represent a consistent form of income for British institutions.
This week, vice-chancellors at top universities have come out saying the system of tuition fees must be reviewed if the government wants the institutions to survive. The £9,000 tuition fee for UK students is now worth around £6,500 to universities, according to Universities UK.
Yet it would be impossible politically to put up domestic fees while cutting the number of overseas students. So vice-chancellors are suggesting other avenues like an increase in public funding.
Universities have always been the crown jewel of the UK, a symbol of diversity and innovation. Short-sighted policies, useful only to gain a couple of political nods, risk making a mess of a valuable resource.