Visa Overhaul, Vaccines: Why Indians Must Consider Studying in UK

James Pitman
·4-min read

The UK is one of the most popular destinations for Indian students studying abroad. They enrich our higher education institutions, businesses, and communities with their presence.

The British government has recently established a new Higher Education Sector Group. The group will be chaired by the UK International Education Champion Sir Steve Smith. It has been formed to help shape the policy of the British Council, the body founded by the government, with a remit to “build connections, understanding and trust between people in the UK and other countries through arts and culture, education and the English language”.

One of the group’s main aims is to create more opportunities for students and researchers to study and work overseas.

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Smoothen The Visa Process for Students

I know how warmly the UK’s new two-year post-study work programme (the Graduate Route – due to open 1 July) has been welcomed by Indian students. However, in my new role as a member of the Higher Education Sector Group, I will be advocating for the government to go further still.

I have already called for an overhaul of the student visa process. The current system is burdensome, and I believe a single visa that takes students through their entire education and beyond into the working world is required. This move would need to be a part of a comprehensive review of the student journey conducted by the Home Office (a department that needs to be more closely involved and accountable for the success of the UK’s updated International Education Strategy), but I believe it would pay dividends in differentiating the UK from other international education markets.

Indeed, students from markets that have responded positively to the graduate route, like India for example, value the employment opportunities available to them not just after graduation, but during their undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. This needs to be a focus for higher education providers in the UK: facilitating part-time work, and possibly even restructuring courses to allow for better employment opportunities.

It is something domestic students benefit from, so we see no reason why international students should be penalised for wanting to earn as they learn, as long as their higher education experience is not impacted.

Vaccination for Students on Arrival

In addition, as a study group we are pushing for Michelle Donelan, the Minister of State for Universities, to agree to vaccinations for all international students on arrival for the new academic year, by which point we hope all domestic segments of the population will have been vaccinated.

We appreciate that given the naturally younger age range, many students are lower down the priority lists for vaccinations in their home countries, so it makes sense that our robust vaccine programme should be made available to anyone coming to the UK to study – after all, many international students were involved with vaccine development and production in our very own universities.

Taking this a step further, we are also calling for the government to permit students who need to quarantine on arrival, to do so at their higher education institutions, rather than at ‘quarantine hotels’.

We are very aware in the UK that it is a privilege and not a right to educate the next generation of young graduates and we need to be conscious of our global competitors. This means the departments behind our International Education Strategy (the Department for Education and the Department for International Trade) need to work closely with the Home Office to regularly review the global marketplace, at least once a year, to ensure our pathway routes and higher education programmes remain competitive.

I intend to use my position in the newly formed Higher Education Sector Group to push for improvements to the international student experience via the British Council, in order to encourage greater numbers of Indian students to travel to the UK to study in our universities and ultimately work in our industries.

(James Pitman is Study Group’s Managing Director UK and Europe, as well as Chair of Exporting Education UK and Vice-Chair of Independent Higher Education. He was a founding advisor to the UK All Party Parliamentary Group on International Students and sits on the newly formed Higher Education Sector Group. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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