“Island of stability”: UK more attractive study destination if Labour takes No. 10

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Former Cameron-Clegg senior policy adviser Michael Lynas – now UK country director of Duolingo – predicted a period of relative calm after a tumultuous few years on higher education policy under successive Conservative governments if Labour takes the largest share of the vote on July 4, as multiple polls indicate.

This could make the UK a more attractive prospect for international students choosing where to study, he said.

“From the incoming Labour government, we should expect stability in policy and in some of the rhetoric as well,” he said during the opening plenary at the UKCISA conference 2023 on June 25 – held this year at the University of Kent.

“So if we’ve been on a rollercoaster ride over the past 14 years, I think we’re in a, hopefully, nice, stable bit of the ride and that will allow us to make plans and move forward.”

While there’s not been much detail on international education from Labour’s recently-published manifesto, Lynas suggested Starmer’s government would be unlikely to roll back on existing major policies, such as the UK’s ban on international students bringing dependents with them while they study or a crackdown on the Graduate Route.

“I don’t think we’ll see a big transformation for the better but also not for the worse,” he said.

And he noted that there is likely to be a thawing of relations between a likely Labour government and the higher education sector, with Labour MP Peter Kyle last month bashing what he called Rishi Sunak’s “war on universities”. Lynas predicted that we can expect this to be reflected in less frosty political rhetoric towards international students.

This relative steadiness would make the UK a more attractive option for international students compared to the continued hostility from other Big Four study destinations, he suggested.

I don’t think we’ll see a big transformation for the better but also not for the worse

Michael Lynas, Duolingo

“The interesting thing that’s going on internationally is that in Canada and Australia – both countries with centre-left governments who are actually introducing pretty big restrictions on international students, on visas, on other things like that – both of those governments are expected to lose elections, which are coming up pretty soon, to be replaced by centre-right governments, which we expect will go even further in restrictions,” he told delegates.

And he warned of a “very real possibility of another Trump presidency, which could mean some more restrictions in the United States as well”.

“So we end up in a situation, after the few years we’ve been through, [where the UK] could be a bit of an island of stability in the midst of quite a lot of change and restrictions internationally,” Lynas said. “For the UK situation in terms of people wanting to come and study here and being welcomed, in a narrow sense that could be good news.”

And he hoped that the incoming government would separate out international student numbers from the statistics around overall migration.

“It would make a big difference in all sorts of ways if the debate around migration and the debate about international students were separated,” he pointed out. “It doesn’t cost any money, which will be a nice policy for the incoming government, I think it’s pro-growth, which is something that this government is going to be emphasising again and again, showing the impact that international students have on growth nationally in the UK but also in terms of local economies.”

“For the general public, when you actually ask them about these issues, they both have concerns around migration… [but] they also really want international students to contribute to the economy.

“If we do get those statistics separated it will make a long-term difference to the sector because every time these stats come out they cause an issue with the government.”

Meanwhile, cross-party life peer Lord Karan Bilimoria slated the current Conservative government’s attitude towards the sector when closing the conference on June 27.

“Given how important international students are to the financial models of universities in this country, how mad is it that you have a government that is anti-international students,” he told delegates.

And he pledged to keep pushing for international students to be removed from the UK’s net migration numbers.

When it comes to immigration, the good news is the Graduate Route is there; the good news also is that we will keep fighting to remove international students from the mass migration figures. This is something else I’ve got cross-party support for,” he said.

“And what will happen to out immigration figures if we remove international students? They will come down by hundreds of thousands. Why are they scaring the population unnecessarily? So we will keep fighting for that.”

The post “Island of stability”: UK more attractive study destination if Labour takes No. 10 appeared first on The PIE News.

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