Bilimoria reiterates “less hostile” UK sector outlook post-election

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On a virtual panel hosted by The PIE News and Amber student accommodation service, co-chair of APPG for international students Lord Bilimoria said that he felt positive that the international reputation of the UK would improve if Labour wins the general election on July 4 as the polls suggest.

“The current government has been hostile in its approach to immigration generally, as well as its approach to international students.

“I’m very confident that the Labour government will be much, much friendlier and much less hostile towards immigration,” said Bilimoria.

In particular, the ban on undergraduate and master’s students bringing dependants to the UK, and the MAC review into the post-study work visa have “dented the reputation of the UK” among prospective international students, he said.

The result of the MAC review, which recommended it be retained in its current form, “was not what the government or what Rishi Sunak wanted to hear”.

“Many of them, including Sunak, wanted to ignore the report which they commissioned, but it is very much here to stay,” Bilimoria added.

His comments echoed those expressed by Duolingo UK director Michael Lynas at the UKCISA conference in July, who predicted a period of relative calm after a tumultuous few years for UK higher education under successive conservative governments.

AECC chief commercial officer Jake Foster agreed about the damaging impact of the dependents ban for 2024 Q3 and Q4 enrolment figures, with 60% of prospective students surveyed by the AECC identifying it as a major deterrent.

The ban has hit the Nigerian market particularly hard, where enrolments are down by 80%, according to Foster.

Speaking on the panel, Foster also highlighted the impact of high interest rates slowing down the job market and causing economic hardship for international students in the UK.

“The positive news is that interest rates are dropping across Europe and there’s no doubt that this will happen in the UK, and there will be more jobs for graduates off the back of this,” said Foster, predicting a period of stability for agents sending students to the UK.

He reiterated the competitive global landscape that policy makers are acting in, pointing to Donald Trump’s recent proposal to give all international students green cards upon graduating from US universities if he is elected as president, which would make the US “extremely competitive” and “a big threat”. The proposal has been effectively walked back by Trump’s own campaign, however.

In the QS World University Rankings 2024, institutions from both the UK and the US took four of the top 10 spots, with three UK universities in the top five.

Meanwhile, international student enrolment caps are causing considerable disruption to the market in Canada and Australia.

I’m very confident that the Labour government will be much, much friendlier and much less hostile towards immigration

Lord Bilimoria

Crucially – as Bilimoria pointed out – unlike the other ‘Big Four’ study destinations, international students are included in the UK’s domestic net migration figures, which surpassed 700,000 in 2022.

“UN rules say that students have to be treated as immigrants even if they only stay for one year. Other countries like the US, Australia and Canada, include international students when they present their figures to the UN, but when they present them domestically, they are listed as temporary immigrants, and the figure comes down hugely,” he explained.

“We’ve had cross-party support for doing this, but the government just will not do it, it’s almost as if they want to scare the public.

“If a Labour government comes in, I’m hopeful that they will listen and they will exclude international students from the net migration figures,” said Bilimoria.

Despite his optimism about the expected Labour administration, Bilimoria did not go as far as suggesting the party would reverse the dependant changes and allow undergraduate and master’s students to bring family members to the UK.

The third generation in his family to be educated at a UK university, Bilimoria remained resolute in his advocacy for the quality of UK higher education and the benefit of international students.

“The soft power of international students is unbeatable and priceless,” he said.

“Approximately 25% of world leaders have been educated at US universities, 25% of world leaders have been educated at UK universities, and the other 50% is all the other countries in the world put together, that is how powerful our education system is.”

The post Bilimoria reiterates “less hostile” UK sector outlook post-election appeared first on The PIE News.

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