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Will an anti-immigration UK govt want more Indian students?

Proposed Commonwealth and targeted work visas for STEM students could boost the falling numbers of Indian students in the UK

education Updated: Oct 25, 2016 19:56 IST
Gauri Kohli
About 18,320 Indian students went to the UK in 2014-15, as per the UK Council for International Student Affairs data.
About 18,320 Indian students went to the UK in 2014-15, as per the UK Council for International Student Affairs data.(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The Brexit referendum and British prime minister Theresa May’s tough stand on student visas and reports that her government will see where visa rules can be tightened, does not augur well for Indian students. As it is, the numbers of Indian students travelling to the UK have fallen sharply in recent years, according to International Consultants for Education and Fairs Monitor figures. Between 2013-14 and 2014-15, this number fell by 10%, making the US displace India as the second-largest non-EU source market for international students. About 22,385 Indian students came to the UK in the 2012/13 academic year and just 18,320 in 2014-15 year, as per the UK Council for International Student Affairs data.

Jack Moran, who is associated with the QS Intelligence Unit, says there are two primary policies by which the UK government could attract more Indian students. “The first thing that the UK government needs to do is establish how it is going to reconcile its desire to maintain the UK’s status as an open destination with a prevalent public desire to see reduced levels of immigration.”

Foreign secretary Boris Johnson’s proposed Commonwealth Visa which would allow Indian graduates to stay and work in London for two years after completion of their degree, irrespective of salary, if implemented, would certainly provide one incentive to Indian students, highlighting the UK’s specific desire to encourage the nation’s talented students to study and research in the country,” says Moran.

Study options available for Indians in the UK and the cost of living

Johnson has also proposed the introduction of a targeted work visa aimed at STEM students, which would allow them to spend up to two years working in the UK after graduation. “Though this would not be restricted to graduates of a specific nationality, it is probable Indian students, who statistics show are more likely to opt to study a STEM subject, would respond positively to this policy,” adds Moran. Hoping to attract more Indian students, the government and universities in UK are mulling new visa schemes, expanded budget plans, financial grants and other initiatives. The UK-India Education and Research Initiative (UKIERI) will be extended for another five years from 2016. So far, UKIERI has supported over 1,000 partnerships between the UK and India, benefitting 35,000 academics.

“This year, UK Visas and Immigration introduced the Priority Visa service to students, which allows them to get a visa decision in three to five days for an extra charge. This has proved hugely popular with students applying this year. After China and the USA, the UK issues more student visas to Indian nationals than any other country and 9 out of 10 Indian students who apply for their student visa get one,” says a UK Home Office spokesperson.

Moran says UK institutions offer a range of scholarships, while the UK government also has an extensive scholarship scheme allowing top international students to study in the country without excessive financial burden. These include Chevening, Marshall and Commonwealth Scholarships.

“However, these scholarships tend to be more widely available for postgraduates. If the UK wishes to attract more top Indian undergraduate students, it would be well-advised to ensure that its scholarship schemes for undergraduates is as extensive,” he says.

Under this year’s Great Britain Scholarship initiative, 291 new scholarships will be offered, worth over £1.5 million, in partnership with 45 universities. About 59 undergraduate and 232 postgraduate awards will be offered for a range of subjects ranging from engineering and law to art and design and information technology across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The UK government also committed last year to expand the number of international students. A statement (part of the government’s Spending Review and Autumn Statement 2015) said the UK government was ‘committed to strong growth in students from outside the European Union (EU)’. It dedicated to its £30 billion education export target by 2020 and stated that the number of students from outside the EU at English universities was expected to rise by 55,000 by 2020.

India is the largest benefactor of UK scholarships worldwide. Indian students continue to emphasise engineering, followed by business and management, computer science and IT. “These preferences are coherent with the high demand for these subject offerings among domestic students,” he says.

Data on student satisfaction from 2014 shows that, overall, 86% of students from India would recommend their UK experience to others, and 92% expressed satisfaction with their UK student experience overall. “International students, including those from India, make an enormous contribution to the UK, academically, culturally and economically. This is a growth area,” says a Universities UK spokesperson.

Read more: Brexit impact: change won’t happen overnight, UK universities assure students