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General madness: the UK’s last seven days

It’s been a rocky week for many, but things can only get better…

In the wake of Wednesday’s announcement, the UK is suddenly staring down the barrel of a general election. Yet, that is certainly not the only shocking thing to come out of the country this past week.

From money troubles for universities to students on the brink of deportation, here are the top stories from the last seven days:

Thursday 16 May

The Office for Students (OfS) published a damning report on the UK HE sector, forecasting ‘deterioration’ to financial performance, with expectations for it to ‘decline further’.

OfS say a key factor behind this is a HE financial model that is ‘reliant on fee income from international students’.

This report comes just a week before ONS figures show a 24.7% fall year-on-year for study-related visas.

‘[This] report is a signal to all institutions to re-test their assumptions about increases in UK and international students,’ said OfS Chief Executive, Susan Lapworth. ‘For the reasonable worst case scenario we have modelled – which assumes a significant reduction in international student numbers and no cost cutting activity – over 80% of institutions would be in deficit.’

Friday 17 May

A report from English UK has found that 2023 was the best year for UK ELT since the pandemic.

Statistics taken from English UK members show student numbers are at 76% of 2019 levels, and student weeks at 71%. In addition, 60% of students were young learners, up from 49% in 2022.

However, this growth was predominantly seen in the private sector. State sector members reached just 27% of pre-pandemic student weeks, compared to 79% for their private sector colleagues.

‘The story of 2023 is one of promising but steady recovery,’ said English UK Chief Executive, Jodie Gray. ‘The government can make a huge difference to our success, as recent clampdowns in competitor markets have demonstrated. Right now, the UK’s approach is more welcoming than that in some of our competitor destinations. Canada and Australia are currently grappling with high visa refusal rates and caps on international student numbers.’

These figures come not long after English UK released a manifesto with recommendations for the next government, including:

  • Expanding the Youth Mobility Scheme
  • Extending ID card travel for groups of under-18s from the EU
  • Increasing government marketing support for ELT

Tuesday 21 May

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak U-turned on his Graduate visa route crackdown after pressure from cabinet colleagues.

Following the rapid review from the MAC last week that found ‘no evidence of abuse’ to the Graduate visa route, the PM initially seemed intent to impose restrictions regardless of the MAC’s findings.

However, backlash from ministers, including Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, and Foreign Secretary David Cameron, means Sunak appears to have backtracked on the proposed changes, instead opting for ‘more modest reforms to close loopholes’, according to the Guardian.

Wednesday 22 May

Naira currency crash causes Teesside University to withdraw sponsorship from Nigerian students struggling to pay fees.

Affected students were ‘blocked from their studies’ and asked to leave the UK, according to the BBC.

Students had to provide proof of funds before beginning their studies at the university. However, the current financial crisis in their home country saw those funds ‘significantly depleted’. The issue was exacerbated further by Teesside changing their tuition fee payment plans from seven instalments to just three.

A spokesman for the university told the BBC that ‘failure to pay was a breach of visa sponsorship requirements’ and that they had ‘no choice’ but to alert the Home Office.

Thursday 23 May

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show a 24.7% fall in student visas from non-EU countries in 2023, according to analysis from the PIE.

However, ONS say it’s ‘too early’ to tell if this is the beginning of a new ‘downward trend’ as the data covers a period from before any policy changes on legal migration rules.

In addition to this drop in student visas, the figures show total net migration across all visas to be down 10.3% from 2022.

Coinciding with the ONS release, the Home Office have officially announced there are no plans to change the Graduate route, but that it will stay ‘under review’.

Instead, new proposals to crackdown on ‘rogue recruitment agents’ and create ‘tougher compliance standards’ for universities have been suggested.

‘Applications are already falling sharply, down by almost a quarter,’ said Home Secretary James Cleverly. ‘But we must go further to make sure our immigration routes aren’t abused. That’s why we are cracking down on rogue international agents and, building on work across government, to ensure international students are coming here to study, not work.’

Up to speed

It remains to be seen what the implications are for the UK’s ELT and HE sector. Is it really ‘too early’ to tell, or are we only just starting to reap the consequences of hostile attitudes to foreign students and a state education sector that continues to struggle?

As the country now counts down the weeks to the general election, it is more integral than ever for all parties to create a welcoming environment for international students and aid the ELT sector in its continued post-pandemic recovery.

Image courtesy of Chris Lawton
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