UK gov’t recognises “unique” needs of HE, says minister, ahead of MAC deadline

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The UK’s minister for exports has assured UK stakeholders of the government’s commitment and understanding of international students and their impact, but not everyone is convinced.

As stakeholders eagerly await the findings of the Migration Advisory Committee’s review into the Graduate Route on May 14, and the governments subsequent policy decision, Lord Offord of Garvel, minister for exports, addressed delegates at the 2024 International Higher Education Forum, organised by Universities UK.

“I wish to assure you that that while appropriately examining the Graduate Route, we also recognise in government that international students have a significant impact, not only on the local economies, but also on the student experience of their fellow classmates and indeed on the UK’s reputation around the world,” Offord told the audience.

With Sir Steve Smith, the UK’s international education champion, on the advisory panel for the review, Offord sought to further assure delegates of the process by highlighting that Smith has been a “strong voice” in portraying the importance of international students for UK universities.

“Whatever the conclusion of the review coming up, my department and this government will be working to provide the best possible market conditions for youth so that you can promote your institution’s offer to the world,” said Offord.

The speech received mixed responses from stakeholders in the room, with some pleasantly surprised by Offord’s words of support for the sector so close to the review’s deadline, and others left feeling unconvinced by his pledge.

A few days earlier, The Times reported that government was looking at options to shorten the route to to six month or a year, while a report by Conservative think tank, Outward, suggested that the route should be made only available to best-performing universities, sparking rumours of exclusive use for Russell Group universities.

The engagement period with universities during the MAC review process is now over, The PIE understands, and the committee is now working on writing the report. However, some believe that there is still time for the sector to rally and sway the final policy decision.

Jo Johnson, chairman of FutureLearn said that the priority, in the remaining time that’s left before the “ink is dry” on this policy, is to highlight the “incredible incoherence” and “self-destruction” of the government’s anticipated policy, and how it runs along side other important government agendas.

“Minister Offord’s agenda is to promote British exports, to get UK higher education exports to £35 billion by 2030. Curtailing the Graduate Route, or restricting it to 24 Russell Group institutions is going to run directly counter to that policy,” said Johnson.

He noted the government’s ambition for the UK to position itself as a “science superpower” for example, while pointing out that currently international students financially “prop up” the UK’s research institutions.

Education as an export currently sits at £28bn, explained Offord, noting that while other exports have “ebbed and flowed”, education has continued to race ahead.

“Every export is unique, but I think it’s fair to say that education is more unique than most. We therefore need to be deliberate and proactive in addressing the specific circumstances of the sector,” said Offord.

“Rest assured that my department and this government see what you are seeing and know what you are facing, and we will work hard with you to equip you with what you need to flourish,” said Offord.

Former universities minister, Johnson seemed to sympathise with Offord’s positioning, but made clear his anticipation for a dramatic policy change.

“Where there are abuses of the system, our universities will take swift appropriate action”

“It’s pretty clear that something is going to land in his lap that is going to make the job of promoting UK higher education exports even more challenging,” said Johnson.

“Prepare for the worst,” Johnson advised universities in the room.

It is expected that the government will act quickly following the review’s findings being released, even if one of the recommendations made is that the MAC needs more time.

Throughout the conference, many stakeholders highlighted the fact that it took the government longer to commission the review than the committee has been given to complete it.

“Where there are abuses of the system, our universities will take swift appropriate action. But a sharp cut in international students would damage the economy by excluding global talent,” wrote Tim Bradshaw, Russell Group CEO, in a letter which was published on May 2 in The Times.

“If the government’s own analysis is correct, the Graduate Visa route will bring in nearly twice as much tax revenue as it costs the public purse.”

The post UK gov’t recognises “unique” needs of HE, says minister, ahead of MAC deadline appeared first on The PIE News.

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