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Braverman meets pushback on plans to limit overseas students

The education secretary, Gillian Keegan, is openly resisting the Home Office’s plans to restrict the number of international students that attend UK universities.

In an interview with the Financial Times, the education secretary described the economic contribution of international students as “hugely valuable”. She also said that the UK’s university sector is “something that we should be very proud of”. She wants to increase the higher education sector’s export revenue from £26bn to £35bn through the establishment of further international campuses and partnerships with overseas institutions, clashing with the Home Office’s plans to reduce immigration numbers by targeting international students. In a conversation with The Sun, Suella Braverman suggested that overseas students were exploiting student visas in order to bring dependants who are “not contributing to growing our economy.” 

At Oxford, just over a third of students are from overseas. The university has the 13th highest proportion of international students in the Russell Group. Oxford considers international students to be an invaluable part of life at the university. One student told Cherwell that the opportunity to be part of a global community “must really broaden our perception of the world and different cultures, and I think that university is fundamentally a place where that should happen.”

Financial Times reported that Braverman and Keegan met this week, and discussion topics included Braverman’s proposed reduction of the time period over which an overseas student can stay in the UK after their degree. The current graduate visa allows international students to stay for 2 years, or for 3 years following the completion of a doctoral or equivalent qualification. It was suggested that this could be reduced to 6 months. The ministers also discussed the current possibility for students on “low-value” courses, or those with lower graduate salaries, to bring dependants to the UK.

Three years ago, the government aimed to increase the number of international students enrolled at UK universities to 600,000 by 2021/22. According to the Higher Education Student Statistics for 2021/22, the figure reached was 680,000, which amounts to just under a quarter of all students at UK universities. But, currently, the number of international students is falling. Part of the reason is the rise in tensions between the UK and China, whose student applications at UK universities have fallen for the first time in a decade.  

Moreover, the Higher Education sector relies on the higher fees paid by international students to provide a better experience for all students. To many, including Gillian Keegan, the Home Office’s proposition is ludicrous both financially and culturally.

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