To ask the Secretary of State for Education, with reference to the recent decision of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement that international students offered only online university courses in that country must leave the US, whether he plans to take steps to encourage international students to study in the UK.
The government has been clear that our world-leading universities, which thrive on being global institutions, will always be open to international students. Engaging closely with the devolved administrations and the higher education sector, we are working to reassure prospective international students that UK higher education is ‘open for business’, remains-world class and is a safe place to study. This includes continued work with Study UK (the government’s international student recruitment campaign led by the British Council), support for the sector-led #WeAreTogether campaign and a package of bespoke communications that will directly target prospective international students, making clear our world-leading offer.
We are also taking steps to promote the new graduate route, which will provide a non-extendable period of leave to stay and work in the UK at any skill level. The government announced on 1 July, as part of the new graduate route, that international students who complete a PhD from summer 2021 can stay in the UK for 3 years after study to live and work. Students who have successfully completed undergraduate and master’s degrees will be able to stay for 2 years. This represents a significant improvement in our offer to international students and will help ensure our higher education sector remains competitive internationally.
Furthermore, on 22 June, with my counterparts in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, I wrote to prospective international students to outline the support and guidance available to international students who are considering studying in the UK from the autumn: https://study-uk.britishcouncil.org/sites/default/files/letter_to_prospective_international_students.pdf. This letter reiterates a number of flexibilities that the government has already announced for international students including, amongst other mitigations, confirmation that distance/blended learning will be permitted for the 2020/21 academic year provided that international students’ sponsors intend to transition to face-to-face learning as soon as circumstances allow, and that international students present in the UK before 6 April 2021 will be eligible for the graduate route if they meet the other requirements of the route when it is introduced in summer 2021.
Guidance published on 24 March provides a temporary work-around for students who need to undertake distance learning due to the COVID-19 outbreak. This is reiterated in guidance for short-term and Tier 4 students updated on 1 June: www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-tier-4-sponsors-migrants-and-short-term-students.
The government is also in discussions with Universities UK and other sector representatives on a regular basis to ensure we are united in welcoming international students to the UK. In particular, we expect international students to be appropriately supported upon arrival by their chosen university during these unprecedented times – especially those who will be subject to the 14-day self-isolation period.
The UK’s new International Education Champion, Sir Steve Smith, will assist with opening up export growth opportunities for the whole UK education sector, which will include attracting international students to UK universities. Alongside Sir Steve’s appointment, our review of the International Education Strategy this autumn will respond to the new context and the challenges posed by COVID-19 across all education settings to ensure we can continue to welcome international students in the future.