The outbreak of Coronavirus has focused attention on the reliance on China amongst many UK industries and universities. According to recent analysis, more than a third of non-EU students are now from China. By way of comparison, Commonwealth admissions have been in decline, despite the strong cultural and historical ties.
Moreover, the debate on the UK’s membership of the EU has overshadowed the UK’s commitment to collaborating with Commonwealth nations. Unlike the EU, the Commonwealth institution is a much looser collection of independent sovereign nations,which nevertheless have focused on shared goals such as human rights, climate change and the promotion of peace and democracy. This community of nations now represents a third of the world’s entire population, with some of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Indeed, growing up in Pakistan, as a child of the Commonwealth myself, I have always been
aware of how much we have in common, from English language through to driving on the left, from our education and legal institutions to our love of cricket!
In this context, the UK Government’s U-turn on international student work visas is to be welcomed, even though it is a case of ‘back to the future’ in that it restores the position that existed before Mrs May was in charge.
Higher education applications from India suffered a steep fall while this rule was in place, with student numbers from India declining from over 50,000 students per year to just 22, 000 last year. Giving international students the ability to work while they study and remain and work after their studies is essential, if we want to see Commonwealth numbers increase and genuine integration into UK society.
The UK must act quickly to claim back its pre-eminent position for international students at a time when Canada, the USA and Australia are all attractive alternatives. Canada in particular, is becoming more popular than the UK for international study, with international numbers up by over 35% in the last two years. Students are attracted by the lower cost of living but also by its liberal and welcoming environment. The ‘soft power’ and the concrete economic benefits that flow from a vibrant international
student sector bring significant value to the UK. It is time to re-establish the UK amongst Commonwealth and Anglophone countries as very clearly ‘Open for Business’. The introduction of a two-year post-study visa will put the UK back on track as a first-choice study destination and will help to restore our reputation as a welcoming and diverse country to study.
However anxious you are about Brexit or the Coronavirus, it is surely time to embrace the opportunities in the world outside Europe and China and focus on the Commonwealth of nations.
Results show that:
- Canada becoming more popular than UK for international study – International student numbers into the UK are flat-lining compared to huge growth in Canada (up 35% year on year)
- UK losing out to Canada as a diverse and welcoming nation
- UK Government’s U-turn on post-study work visas is to be welcomed
- Details on what the government is proposing
- Soft power can bring UK concrete benefits
- Brexit presents an opportunity to reinvigorate relations with the Commonwealth
- Dangerous over-reliance on Chinese students
- Coronavirus implications
- UK Industries are also over-reliant on China
- Time to embrace the rest of the English-speaking world