New UK strategy provides few real opportunities for overseas students

Jingan Young says plan to draw students from China and elsewhere fails to tackle lack of jobs

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 August, 2013, 4:30am

The UK's "new and improved" international education strategy aims to attract more than 90,000 overseas students by 2018. But with restrictive visa rules and hopeless job opportunities, what remains the draw for international students?

Released by the UK government last week, the strategy aims to increase the international student population by 20 per cent by 2018 (more than 90,000 students) and will boost its presence overseas by partnering with academic institutions abroad and opening "outlets" with particular interest in - you guessed it - China.

The report was accompanied by the revelation that the education export industry is worth £17.5 billion (HK$207.4 billion) to the UK economy. No surprise then that the new plan of attack comes packaged inside a report titled "Global Growth and Prosperity".

But will international students take the bait? One thing the new scheme makes no effort to reconcile is the visa catch-22. Once graduated, if you're without a job offer or sponsor and unless you're a burgeoning entrepreneur with lots of cash or are set to invest in the UK real-estate market, then you must, quite simply, "go home".

Business Secretary Vince Cable "reassures" us that there will be "no cap on numbers" on student visas but this desire to increase student immigration conflicts with the government's initial "pledge" to reduce migration by 2015. Last year saw the complete eradication of the post-study work visa, which allowed graduates to reside in the UK to look for work without a job offer. The strings are pulled ever tighter.

The current low employment rate also mean the chances of securing a job are close to zero. Most employers in the UK now have strict clauses on their applications. Not an EU citizen? No work visa? Don't bother applying.

It makes Cable's praise of overseas students' contributions to UK society all the more patronising. "Pay-as-you-go Education" might make for a better tagline than their current "Education is Great".

In May, I wrote about the harsh realities, both racial and cultural, that Hong Kong students often face when they study abroad.

But perhaps they should be more worried about their wallets. Reportedly in 2011, international students studying in the UK spent around £10.2 billion alone on tuition fees and living expenses.

The future for education may be a global one but the desire to integrate oneself and to take pride of place in where you choose to live, learn, study and work is teetering on the edge. Where you choose to study will soon be about where you can get the best deal.

Jingan Young is a Hong Kong-born playwright and freelance writer currently reading for a master's in creative writing at Oxford