How the UK’s new visa rules affects international postgraduate students’ intake

The UK has long been a popular destination for international students who want to pursue postgraduate education at some of the world’s best universities. However, recent changes to the student visa route have made it more difficult and less attractive for many prospective students to come to the UK.

One of the most significant changes is the removal of the right for international students to bring their family members (spouses, partners, or children) with them on their student visa, unless they are studying a research postgraduate programme. This policy came into effect on 1 January 2024, and was part of the government’s efforts to reduce net migration while protecting the economic benefits that students bring to the UK.

The impact of this change is already evident in the latest enrolment data from UK universities. According to Enroly, a platform that automates visa and arrival process for universities and their students, the number of offers to international postgraduate students in UK universities has dropped by 37 percent this January compared to January 2023. The most affected countries are Nigeria, India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh, which have seen a sharp decline in the demand for UK university courses.

Many international students who wish to pursue postgraduate education in the UK are deterred by the new visa rules, as they do not want to leave their families behind or face the financial and emotional challenges of living apart. Some students may also feel that the UK is no longer a welcoming place for them, and may opt for other destinations that offer more flexible and supportive visa policies, such as Canada, Australia, or Germany.

The new visa rules not only affect the students themselves, but also the UK higher education sector and the wider society. International students contribute significantly to the academic excellence, diversity, and innovation of UK universities, as well as to the local and national economy through their tuition fees, spending, and taxes. According to a report by the Higher Education Policy Institute, international students who started their studies in 2018/19 are expected to generate £28.8 billion in economic impact for the UK over the course of their studies and stay.

The UK government has stated that it remains committed to its International Education Strategy, which aims to increase the number of international students studying in the UK to 600,000 per year by 2030. However, this target seems unrealistic and unachievable if the current visa policies continue to discourage and deter potential students from choosing the UK as their study destination.

Therefore, it is crucial that the UK government reconsiders its approach to international student visas, and works with the higher education sector and the student community to find a balance between reducing net migration and supporting the benefits that international students bring to the UK. A more flexible and humane visa policy that allows international postgraduate students to bring their dependants with them would not only make the UK more attractive and competitive in the global education market, but also more inclusive and respectful of the diverse needs and aspirations of its international student population.

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