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Last night’s announcement of the return of a two-year post-study work visa has, rightly been greeted by the sector with a great deal of optimism, but what real outcomes can we expect to see from this announcement? Are we all getting a little overexcited?

History and data suggest we are right to be excited. Looking at the impact of the removal of the two-year visa back in 2012 and the impact of more generous post study work policies in competing countries such as Canada and Ireland suggest the UK should expect to see an immediate and positive growth in international student enrolments, particularly from South Asia.

As our real-time demand tools have shown in the past and has been written about many times on this site over the past few years, policy announcements (and the policies themselves) can and do have a significant impact on international student choices and on which countries are most attractive to them.

We know from a recent survey carried out in April this year, with nearly 2000 users of our twelve Hotcourses International sites, that one of the key motivators for students to study abroad is employability. In the survey 41% of respondents stated that post-study work opportunities in the destination country was one of their 3 most important factors in deciding to study abroad. This rose to 50% amongst users of our India site with only ‘the ability to gain work experience whilst studying abroad’ gaining a higher score in the survey.

If we look at the annual IDP Student Buyer Behaviour survey, this time surveying nearly 3000 prospective international students, we can see the importance of a progressive post-study work visa once again. Canada leads the way in terms of student perceptions of graduate employment opportunities with the UK far behind the main competitors of Australia, United States and New Zealand.

Looking at historical data we can see that the initial reduction of the UK two-year post study work visa to 4 months in 2012 had a negative impact on student perceptions of the UK and impacted on where they chose to study. The impact was swift with the numbers of international and EU student numbers falling from 311,800 in 2011-12 to 307,205 in 2012-13. As is well documented, the policy change had the largest impact in South Asia and particularly India and Pakistan where there was a significant drop in the flow of students coming to the UK.

Canada is also a good case in point, showing how welcoming post study work polices for international students can lead to incredibly strong growth in international student numbers.  Canada hit it’s 2022 target 3 year’s ahead of schedule and now leads the world in terms of international student numbers.  This growth was driven in the main from an increase in students from India. Central to the strategy was the provision within the visa regulations for students to stay in country, to live and to work and continue to contribute to the Canadian economy once they concluded their studies.

Ireland too have seen the benefits of progressive post study work options. In early 2017 Ireland announced a 24 month ‘stay back option’ for international postgraduates. This led to a significant uptick in interest in studying in Ireland from Indian students on our sites (see graph below) and Ireland has subsequently seen this transfer to a growth in enrolments.

So, it does seem that the initial optimism shown following the announcement is fair and I expect us to be charting the increasing interest in studying in the UK across our sites over the next weeks and months. The only words of caution that I would have is that it is not only policy but perception that drives demand and the UK must work hard, in light of Brexit and the hostile environment, to demonstrate that it is an open and welcoming country – something that I look forward to working with colleagues across the sector in promoting.

Jonah Duffin
Jonah Duffin11 September 2019