UK fee increases curtail Graduate Route chances
A UK government-backed scholarship awardee has called for the country’s new home secretary to be more welcoming to international students and widen Graduate Route opportunities for students from modest backgrounds.
Speaking to members of the House of Lords at an event in Westminster ahead of international students’ day, University of Hull student and UKCISA ambassador Loan Thu Nguyen said that studying in the UK had always been a dream since she was little, but that it “seemed almost impossible for me with a modest background”.
However, government policy to increase the fees of the NHS surcharge and the visa application fee for the Graduate Route visa has meant that the aspiring English language teacher’s time in the UK will be shorter than originally anticipated.
James Cleverly took over the role of home secretary after Suella Braverman was asked to resign by prime minister Rishi Sunak on November 13. Increases in bureaucracy costs were announced during Braverman’s tenure earlier this year.
The scholarship funded by the UK government, British Council and the University of Hull allowed Nguyen, from Vietnam, to “reach her full potential”, learn about other cultures and make friends with people from all over the world, she said.
“When I applied for the UK university, the graduate work visa had just been reintroduced, which meant that I could stay here for two more years after graduation, so that I could have more immersion in the UK culture and have more stories and more experiences to share with my future students.
“I believe that it would do wonders for developing their language literacy skills [as would encountering] the real-life English that I do on a daily basis, which I couldn’t back in Vietnam.”
But on hearing “heart-breaking news” that the fees would increase earlier this year, Nguyen – who earned a distinction in her masters degree – eventually decided that financial pressure means she will leave the UK earlier than planned.
“Thinking constantly about the rising fees and how to pay everything all at once… I saw my three-year plan and my bright future put in jeopardy in front of my very eyes. This put myself and many other international students disheartened and disappointed.”
“To be frank, I did not totally expect that decision to be made by this government.
“The government that kindly offered me with a great scholarship to fulfil my international education dream, the government which provided me with the opportunity to explore myself – the government who welcomed me to this wonderful country with such a diverse and multicultural environment.
“But at the same time it’s the government that suddenly shut the doors of opportunities and hopes for many other international students like myself, to continue staying here after graduation.”
Together with the up-front cost and increases in cost of living, accommodation deposits and associated costs, Nguyen said she was left with “no choice but to make a sad and disappointing decision to leave the UK very soon”.
Despite the outcome, Nguyen praised the UK as a country that showed her “how simple kindness and connections can create such a beautiful society”.
“It is difficult to imagine that this journey would have to come to an end soon and I’m still grateful that I have those stories and experiences to share with my students… To tell them about meeting people from different countries and cultures and backgrounds actually can create such a strong and more empathetic society.
“Despite all of this, if one of my students came to me and asked if they should study in the UK, my answer will always be a big yes.”
A report published by the APPG for International Students, released earlier this year, urged that institutions and employers should “work together to mitigate the costs of the Graduate visa for students from lower and middle income backgrounds”.
The £715 application fee, as well as the Immigration Health Surcharge, that reaches £1,248 for two years and £1,872 for three years, is a “significant lump sum” widely seen as a barrier – and living costs “often increase for many as their student status ends”.
The inquiry noted that many students missed out on a two-year work experience opportunity because of the high cost of the visa and immigration health surcharges, Baroness Garden of Frognal – member of the APPG told the attendees.
Graduate visa employment programs between local government and SMEs, institutions and employers could help to share the visa application cost, the report noted, or an IHS loan scheme could see institutions cover up-front visa costs.
“I have a hope that that other international students will have better opportunities than I do”
“It should not be that only the wealthiest students are able to take advantage of the Graduate visa,” the report said.
“The higher education sector should seek to support lower income international students with the same shared values they apply to social mobility more broadly.”
“This really is something we must address because we can’t both those sorts of challenges and we have proposed models which should help to mitigate that,” Baroness Frognal said.
While the graduate visa has helped the UK diversify its international student cohort, the APPG “strongly supports” any visa system changes that makes it easier for students to come to the UK, she added.
“I have a hope that that other international students will have better opportunities than I do,” Nguyen continued, “to let them know that they don’t need to be the richest to afford the fees, they don’t need to be the brightest to win the government scholarship, they can still come here, pursuing education from different backgrounds.
“I would hope that the new home secretary will be more welcoming to international students.”