“We just have to get through the next month,” says UK HE leader

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Once the UK HE sector has ‘toughed it out’ through the MAC review announcement and net migration figures, it can start looking more concretely at the future, stakeholders said.

Wendy Alexander, VP of international at the University of Dundee, warned delegates at the International Higher Education Forum in London that they were in for an uncomfortable month as key dates approach.

“Some time between May 14 and May 23, you will see a pretty hostile announcement from the government,” she predicted, as leaders discussed the UK, Australia and Canada’s state of sector affairs.

The announcement would concern the graduate route, which in Alexander’s thoughts, could go one of three ways: be axed completely, which she said was “unlikely”; reduce to six to 12 months; or to cut the sector “by quality”, for example only Russell Group graduates being able to use it.

She noted that the overcorrection on international students by the government has “already happened”, citing the dependent ban, as the first Home Office monthly statistics showed a 32,000 year-on-year drop in student dependents.

However, she relented that the sector needed to come to terms with the fact the system hadn’t been perfect in the first place.

“We really need to be a little more self-reflective about it. The first way to build trust is to concede there was a problem; when we had no post-study work visa between 2012-19 numbers grew by 1%… for the two years we’ve had the route, we grew at 10%.

“The truth is, if anyone of us had been sitting in government, we would say you can’t go from 1% to 10% overnight and it not be challenged,” Alexander, who was previously a member of the Scottish Parliament, said.

She noted the difference between the three countries, whose attractiveness in various surveys has suffered over the last six months, partly due to Canada’s cap, the UK’s new policies and a rigorous Migration Strategy in Australia, was Brexit.

“The reason this matters is because [pre-Brexit] much of our care sector and occupations that were taken by immigrants were European, and weren’t counted in net migration data.

“Not only were there humanitarian crises… but we were filling our labour market with non-EU nationals. So we just have to get through the next month, and [focus on] how we support the next government,” she added.

Philip Landon, chief executive of Universities Canada, acknowledged that the country indeed did not have a situation like Brexit.

“If we slam the door, it will be temporary and history will be on our side”

“We were a bit smug that we weren’t going through [those challenges]… but now we have an inflationary situation and the government has been hammered,” he told delegates.

Both Landon and Phil Honeywood, chief executive of IEAA in Australia, noted the similarities between how international students were initially blamed for a countrywide rental crisis in both nations.

He told delegates about the previous idea the government had pushed – Big Australia – trying to harness young people from abroad in the global skills competition.

“Certainly the media decided international students were the sole cause of the rental crisis in Austraila… We had a 360 degree pivot from the [Albanese government] who stopped talking about the idea of Big Australia… and they announced this policy change of five years of post-study work to three years,” Honeywood explained.

In a ray of hope, Honeywood did say that there was a likelihood Australia would be able to avoid a hard cap on international student numbers – and despite awaited student visa fee hikes, they may be able to get refunds if it’s rejected where they couldn’t before.

“We’re careful not to say ‘the sky is falling’ – but we’re watching it”

In Canada’s case, Landon conceded, they are essentially “over the fight”.

“We’re careful not to say ‘the sky is falling’, but we’re watching it… the fight in some ways has been lost. We’re working with [IRCC] to say, ‘if you’re going to cap next year, please tell us the numbers as soon as possible so we can have predictability’,” Landon said.

Alexander noted that while times were especially tough in the UK, the sector should remember what it’s working towards and the important things it’s built on.

“Once we’ve got through this… we need to look at how we can support the next government, to win an argument around the value international students and seeing them as slightly [separate] from the wider more toxic debate around migration,” she urged.

“The desire to build a better life in a different country is fundamental to the human spirit… look at the success of [London]. The success of this city is build on people who move to this country.

“So if we slam the door, it will be temporary and history will be on our side,” she said.

The post “We just have to get through the next month,” says UK HE leader appeared first on The PIE News.

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