The impact of the Coronavirus has been keenly felt across the international education sector. International students have been faced with challenging circumstances, far away from home – or struggling to keep up with course commitments remotely. Universities, colleges, English language providers and schools have needed to adapt at lightning speed, moving delivery online and maintaining their duty of care to students from all over the world. And Government departments have had to put in place new rules and regulations, to enable flexibility in difficult circumstances, while prioritising public safety.
The UK can be proud of its response in this area. Education providers of all sizes and specialisms have worked tirelessly with international students to provide support and reassurance, as we’ve seen through the We Are Together social media campaign. The Government has also implemented a series of immigration-related concessions, which have contributed to reassuring both current and prospective international students.
However, the pandemic – alongside the UK’s departure from the European Union – represent both an opportunity and an imperative to scale up our ambition to delivering a world-class student experience. Our shared objectives should be to:
- Position the UK as the most welcoming and attractive destination for study in the world
- Ensure international students who choose the UK feel safe, part of a community and empowered to make the most of their experience
- Create a system which fosters and enables a lifelong connection with the UK
In a position paper published today, UKCISA has outlined 15 priority actions that the Government and international education sector can take to deliver on this vision, throughout the student journey.
Our most immediate priorities are visa and immigration-related. We are urgently calling for Government to extend and expand existing Corona-related concessions to demonstrate its commitment to ensure no international student is adversely impacted by this situation.
As VACs reopen we need reassurance that there is capacity to deal with a backlog of international student applications, and prioritise international student applications, as France has done.
Given the continuing impact of the pandemic, it’s imperative that concessions currently in place for international students (due to expire on 31 July) are extended – ideally until the end of the year. We need greater flexibility for providers with a track record of compliance to assess English language capability; a nine month, rather than a three month application for Tier 4 – effective immediately; and clarity for students unable to return to the UK, who wish to apply for a Doctorate Extension Scheme.
In light of the exceptional circumstances, we are also calling on the Government to extend the transition period for EU students, and ensure that no student unable to get to the UK prior to 31 December is prevented by the pandemic from applying for pre-settled status.
Alongside this, the position paper sets out longer-term, strategic priorities designed to inform the refresh of the 2019 International Education Strategy and the work of the newly appointed International Education Champion.
In times of crisis, messages from the top matter. First and foremost, we emphasise the need for clear and consistent welcome messages from Government, recognising the important contribution international students make to UK intellectual life, local communities and the economy.
To complement this, we also identify a number of practical steps aimed at improving the experience of current international students. These include:
- A student-led research project to identify and articulate international students’ expectations and experiences, in a number of key areas, from accommodation and financial hardship to community, inclusivity and belonging
- The development of an International Student Charter celebrating best practice and articulating providers’ commitments to international students
- The establishment of a national strategy for international student employability and a graduate placement scheme, which could help support international students to make the most of the opportunities presented by the new graduate route
Across these priorities, UKCISA can play a vital role in empowering international students to be key partners in shaping a quality student experience, at a time when it’s never been more important.