Are “poor quality” courses in the U.K. impacting Indian students?

Only 17% of students who arrived in 2017 in the U.K got work visas, compared to 31% who arrived in 2004

August 18, 2023 12:00 pm | Updated August 19, 2023 02:27 am IST

A graduate adjusts his mortar board outside the Sheldonian Theatre after a graduation ceremony at Oxford University, in Oxford, Britain.

A graduate adjusts his mortar board outside the Sheldonian Theatre after a graduation ceremony at Oxford University, in Oxford, Britain. | Photo Credit: Reuters

An increasing number of Indian students are heading to the United Kingdom (U.K.), but the number of those who manage to stay in that country by securing jobs or pursuing further studies has been poor in recent years. Indians, like other foreign students, pay higher tuition fees than domestic students, so they are disproportionately more impacted when they can’t find jobs. Moreover, for foreign students, it’s a double blow as it leads to the expiry of visas.

In 2022, two out of ten students, who migrated out of India, went to the U.K. for a degree. In the U.K., Indians now form the second largest cohort of foreign students, behind China. Indians as a share of foreign students, surged from around 4% in 2015-16 to over 22% in 2021-22. The share of students from the European Union — which used to be the second-largest cohort — dwindled to 8%, post-Brexit. Indians filled this void following the graduate visa policy in 2019, which allowed foreign students to work in the U.K. for two years after completing their studies. 

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Immigration status

Of Indian students who arrived in 2017, only 17% switched to work visas, while 5% managed to extend their study visas. In contrast, a majority of visas (76%) expired by 2022 (Chart 2).

The trend of high expiry rates started after 2010. For instance, 35% of Indian students who came to the U.K. in 2004 had permission to work or study five years later. Moreover, 10% of them were on indefinite leave to remain (right to live, work and study in the U.K. for as long as they like) and only 50% of visas expired.

Tuition fees collected from foreign students form a substantial part of the revenue for U.K. universities. As Chart 3 shows, foreign students comprised nearly 24% of enrolment in higher education but their share in fees collected was 43% in 2021-22. The tuition fee from international students subsidises the education of domestic students whose fees were capped at £9,000 between 2012-13 and 2016-17 and increased to £9,250 thereafter.

Sunak’s explanation

In mid-July, U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hinted at a possible reason for this trend. He blamed it on “low-quality” courses. His government declared a crackdown on courses that failed to deliver “good outcomes” by limiting student intake. These courses were defined as those that didn’t lead to good jobs and left young people with poor pay and high debts. Data show that Indian students too may have borne the brunt of these “low-quality” courses. A high number of Indian students were enrolled in colleges ranked much lower in The Guardian University Guide’s 2023 rankings.

In the past three years, about 30% of Indian students enrolled in universities ranked over 100 by The Guardian (Chart 4). The University of Hertfordshire (ranked 74) followed by The University of East London (ranked 113) were the top two destinations for Indian students. Only about 13% of Indians were enrolled in the 24 prestigious Russell Group universities which includes the University of Oxford and Cambridge. 

Chart 4 | The chart shows the university-wise average number of Indian students enrolled in the past three years. The bigger the circle, the higher the number of students. The circles on the right are better ranked.

Also read | U.K. inflation: Studying abroad for Indian students gets tougher amid struggle for affordable living

Source: Higher Education Statistics Agency, migrant journey report and The Guardian University Guide 2023

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