Britain’s recent policymaking, when it comes to international students, is flawed. Politicians quote “bogus students”, but what they really mean is a systematic British failure in regulating the activities of what were previously considered “highly trusted sponsor” educational institutions.
Never has Britain’s future in the global landscape been so uncertain as it is now, as the reality of Brexit starts to sink in. Yet, there is absolute certainty about a few things. First, for Brexit to be successful, Britain needs to become a truly global, outward-looking nation. This is no mean feat for a nation that is struggling with a misplaced negative rhetoric around immigration. Second, to be truly global, Britain must forge an extremely strong and special partnership with India. Numerically, it’s a good relationship, with strong bilateral trade and investment. Yet, the relationship has been steadily worsening. This is where the third factor of absolute certainty kicks in. For a post-Brexit deal of any nature with India to be struck, freer movement of Indian students is fundamental. Britain’s recent policymaking, when it comes to international students, is flawed. Politicians quote “bogus students”, but what they really mean is a systematic British failure in regulating the activities of what were previously considered “highly trusted sponsor” educational institutions.
References to students “overstaying” in the UK are made. In reality, the 100,000-scaremongering figure constantly quoted has transpired to be a highly insignificant 4,500. Closure of the post-study work visa is perhaps the biggest self-goal Britain could have scored. Numbers of Indian students coming to the UK have fallen by over half in recent years. This is when the overall numbers of Indian students studying globally is rising. Students constantly tell us that the key factor that stops them from coming to the UK is the lack of visa issuance, which would have allowed them to easily find a job in the UK, repay some of the expensive loans that they have had to take on to fund their degrees, and develop crucial employability skills.
It won’t take much for Britain to roll out the desperately needed red carpet to Indian students. Most politicians across the British political spectrum are united on international students being removed from the UK’s net migration target. This is the absolute first step Britain must take if it is serious about the well-being of its own higher education sector, one of the largest British exports. But, for the UK to truly show India that it is serious about working collaboratively, it must demonstrate working as equals. Such a partnership recognises the challenges that both countries face, and Britain would do well to play an ace by offering to ease some of India’s pressure of educating and skilling its 500 million young people. So, what can Britain do?
A proposal of a two-year post study work visa that is conditional upon the student’s return to India after working for two years has been made. Such a visa considers the requirement of both nations—Indian students get to work and gain global experience for a significant period, but as temporary migrants in Britain. They are net contributors to the country, and return to India as friends of the UK. Some say that Britain is too busy with Brexit right now to care—but now is exactly the time to send this much-awaited welcome to Indian students, and demonstrate that the UK really does care about its relationship with India. Britain was and continues to be a destination of choice for Indian students. The shared history, ease of living, access to opportunities and excellence of the British universities continue to appeal to India. But Britain must act before it is too late.
By: Sanam Arora
Founder and chairperson, National Indian Students and Alumni Union UK. Views are personal