The UK Government recently announced that from 2020 international students will be eligible for a two year post-study work visa upon completion of their studies at a UK university.

The move reverses a key aspect of former PM Theresa May’s policies, which permitted graduates with bachelors or master’s degrees to look for work only for four months. That restrictive policy was blamed for a fall in the number of international students choosing to study in the UK, and a loss of the UK share of the international student market against other major destination countries, particularly Australia.

The announcement of the policy reversal has been widely welcomed in the UK education sector, and there has been plenty of comment sought and given from educational institutions.

We thought it would be interesting to get the education agent perspective on the changes, so we asked some top education agents two questions:

1The UK has been losing market share in the international student market in recent years. What impact do you think this policy change will have on the UK international student market?

2What impact do you think the changes will have on the market/s you specialise in?

Here’s what they said…

Simon Costain

General Manager, Go Study Australia

This is a big play by the UK to regain lost momentum in the international student space. I have no doubt it will make the country a far more attractive consideration for those looking to stay in another country longer.  It will help balance out some of the other factors like Brexit which have been contributing to students considering other locations like Australia and Canada.

Go Study Australia’s largest market is students from Spain, Italy and France.  The UK has always been a very attractive location for European students for a number of reasons – proximity being the most obvious.

Most EU citizens can easily live and work in the UK so under the current policy there won’t be much change. However with Brexit looming, EU citizens will most likely lose their ability to live in the UK, so post-study work rights will become an important pathway for EU students. Its a very smart play by the UK to enact this now as it helps bring about some certainty for those who are challenged by the instability and uncertainty Brexit may cause.

One of the bigger issues that still looms with Brexit is the potential retraction of UK Government financed student loans for EU citizens looking to study in the UK.  Students can currently secure loans of nearly £10,000 GBP per year to cover study and living costs.  If these are removed in the Brexit process  the new post-study work rights may have only a small impact as most students can’t afford to live and study in the UK without these loans.

Overall, the more generous post-study work visa a positive step forward for the UK, but I still believe Australia offers a more significant life-changing experience and a more beneficial environment for students. The sheer distance of Australia from Europe means students will become more independent and fully embrace the Aussie culture and its many opportunities.  Add to this the fact that students can work while they study, and also have post-study work rights – I think studying in Australia is still the best option for those looking for an English speaking study environment.

Anusha Mahtani

Senior Education Advisor, SchoolApply

The number of students looking to study abroad each year is growing exponentially. Generally, international students want to obtain an international degree, secure a well paying job and immigrate to another country. With the 2 year post-study work visa a huge number of students will be inclined to choose the UK over countries with a less friendly immigration path such as the US ( 1 year post study). However, the tuition fees in the UK are higher than Canada which I believe still dominates the industry in terms of study abroad destinations. We currently work with students from the GCC / India and Africa who I believe would prefer to study in the UK given it’s proximity to the student’s home country and the opportunity to complete their degree in 3 years as opposed to 4.   

In general, I think the UK will definitely see a positive impact in terms of numbers of international students it attracts to study at its higher education institutions. 

I personally think the UK visa application process is a lot more straightforward than the Canadian visa application process, and students will be more inclined to study in the UK over Canada due to this. There is still a taboo surrounding the idea that the UK is a very expensive study abroad destination so it will take a little bit of education and fact sharing to show students that the costs of a 3 year degree are in fact lower than a 4 year degree, and I am optimistic about seeing more students choosing to study in the UK. 

Greg Rainey

Chief Executive Officer, McGovern Education Group

Obviously, the UK government decision to allow international students to remain in the UK on a post-study work visa for two years after graduation to find a job is a positive step in improving market share. It will also better serve the needs of international students, and support the growth and development of the UK economy.

In the US, NAFSA estimates that international students contribute $39 billion dollars to the US economy, which is both significant to the development and growth of our economy and demonstrates the important contributions made by international students. Despite anti-immigration rhetoric from some US politicians, most notably the President, the US continues to lead the world in the number of international students attending colleges and universities. That is in part the result of the continuation of the Optional Practical Training program, which allows international students to extend their visas for three years for full-time employment.

I would also note that while Canada is regarded as offering the most progressive immigration and work policies for international students, the country has a smaller number of universities at 96 than the UK at 136, while the US offers more than 4,000.

Because our business model is based on offering international students one-on-one counseling with American education counselors in the United States, McGovern Education Group only works with international students interested in attending US colleges and universities. However, most education agencies offer international students application processing services to multiple countries, sometimes ten or more, so these agencies would be more insulated from potential recruitment market shifts.

While I applaud the positive changes the UK government is making in regards to international student employment after graduation, the policy changes do not go into effect until 2020. It’s not helpful for international students currently enrolled in UK institutions and will take some time to impact the global market as international students and parents tend to choose predictable outcomes and therefore are typically slow to react to recent policy changes.

As for the US market, we have been told year after year that Canadian universities as well as Australian universities are going to dramatically shift the international student recruitment market; however, our experience working with hundreds of international students over the past five years has shown neither a decline in the number nor the quality of international students using our counseling services due to, in part, the complexities involved in selecting from more than 4,000 institutions in the United States.

For international students interested in studying in the US, our American Education Explained video series is a great place to start.

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