The government’s announced successor the to the Post Study Work visa scheme has continued to cause a stir at the LSE.
The new amendments, proposed to be introduced in April 2012, stipulate that non-European Union students must have an offer of a graduate job from a licensed employer paying over £20,000, which they must move into before their student visa ends. The plan also calls for the abolition of the Resident Labour Market Test, meaning that employers will no longer have to show that no other EEA national can do the job. This is part of the UK Government’s aim to cut net immigration from 215,000 to 100,000 per year by 2015.
The LSE’s high number of international students make these proposals particularly concerning.
On the 9th February, the British Council, the organisation charged with promoting British education abroad, called for an “urgent review” of the proposed changes, which he said will “undermine the economic benefit that higher education as an export sector brings” to the United Kingdom.
The LSE has lobbied the UK Border Agency (UKBA), arguing that “the insistence on licensed sponsors is going to cut out a lot of the smaller, entrepreneurial firms who, as we saw from the survey we did at the LSE last year, make use of the existing PSW scheme.”
Concern has also been expressed over the £20,000 threshold as a starting salary, given the current economic climate as well as the variety of fields that LSE students enter upon graduation In response, the UKBA has insisted that “obtaining a Tier 2 licence is not an onerous process,” but it remains open to discussions over the minimum salary requirements, recognising that some students are required to undertake post-graduate work experience before obtaining a professional qualification.
The LSE has now requested a further meeting with the UKBA over concerns that the growing competition for graduate internships in recent years will not incentivise employers to amend salaries to fit the new regulations, given the already over-subscribed nature of the posts.
The implications of such a scheme are clearly multifaceted. It is feared that these changes to the Post-Study Work visa scheme will deter international students from pursuing higher education in the United Kingdom. This is in spite of the visa rules for international students generally being more flexible than in the past, and those overseas students gaining admission at the LSE not being restricted from coming by visa restrictions.
American and Australian universities have “learnt the hard way” according to Professor Jo Beall, Director of Education and Society on the British Council, having driven students away by restricting their own visa rules. The International Education Association of Australia released figures last year showing that the value of education exports; fees and goods and services purchased by foreign students had fallen by A$2.7 billion in the period of 2010-11. This has now prompted a backtracking in Australian visa restrictions. Amena Amer, the Students’ Union Education officer, has called for a similar review of the UK policy, saying that the new visa scheme feeds in to a wider debate about national budget cuts that “will cripple the education sector.”
Fears have arisen as to how the new visa scheme may negatively impact the range of international students that will choose to study at the LSE. Priding the LSE for its cultural diversity, Ms. Amer further comments that the international body of students at the LSE creates many benefits as “students gain from learning from one another when coming from such diverse backgrounds.”
Jenny Owen, Head of Careers at the LSE, forecasts that certain subject departments at the LSE will be particularly negatively affected. Recognising the Third Sector as having lower starting salaries than in the city, she predicts that those international students from courses such as International Relations and Anthropology will have greater difficulty remaining in the UK post-graduation “than their counterparts in the more numeric disciplines.”
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