Q&A: Yinbo Yu, International Students’ Officer, National Union of Students
Q1. What are the key steps to keep the UK as a welcoming country for international students after Brexit?
One of the biggest ways the UK can stay welcoming to international students is through an overhaul of the current immigration system. The current ‘hostile environment’ isn’t working for international students. Instead, we would like to see a friendly system: one with streamlined visa processes, a brilliant education, and job opportunities at the end!
Big budget marketing campaigns are never going to shout as loud as genuine policy change. While it is so important to talk about the benefits of a UK education, our government need to scrutinise the whole international student journey and make sure it is not only fit for purpose but fit for competition with an expanding global market.
Of course, there’s also lots of things universities can do too. International collaborations are critical to maintaining the high standard of research and global opportunities for their students. Equally, universities have an opportunity to make their campuses a home for international students, who have often travelled thousands of miles from their families and friends to study at the institution. Ensuring they have a space to be themselves, to live and to study with world-class support services is critical in ensuring these students feel welcomed in their community and in the UK.
Q2. How can universities break the barriers to international student recruitment?
One of the key ways is through lobbying to get students out of the migration target – or better yet, removing the target altogether! This will allow universities to have more freedom to recruit students abroad. Even further, the sector should strive to have a different kind of target: one which looks to increase the number of international students in the country, and for progress to be measured against it. This is common practice in countries such as Australia, and would help universities to focus on improving recruitment across the world.
Transnational education (TNE) is another pipeline through which international students study in the UK. Universities will have to look at the ways in which they can expand and enhance their TNE offer, which offer possibilities for international students to come to the UK to continue their education.
Q3. What are the main challenges for international student recruitment deriving from the current immigration system? How does that affect international student experience?
The lack of a meaningful post study work offer is a big challenge. Countries such as New Zealand and Canada are seeing an international student population growth rate of 39% and 26% respectively, whereas the UK’s population growth is at 0.7% – which is deeply worrying. Although the international enrolment is growing slowly, UK is losing its shares in the global market in international education.
Students do not exist in a vacuum. When they come to study, they also make friends, fall in love, and build their lives. While some will want to do their degree, and use that knowledge to make their futures in their home country, others will want to feel there is an opportunity to make a living in the UK. We know that international students feel immense pressure during their studies to find a job from the moment they start their course – and this is particularly difficult if they are on a one year masters degree. The current immigration system seems to has created a feeling of apathy in terms of participating in the social life at universities. Apart from language barriers and cultural differences, the perception, and perhaps the fact that staying in the UK after graduation is more and more difficult makes international students much less incentive to fully integrate into UK society.
NUS doesn’t just want to see a longer period of time for international students to find a job: we want to see international students having a genuine choice, and for their options to be clearly presented to them. From big corporations to small charities, international students should be able to work wherever they want – provided they are the best candidate for the job.
Q4. What are the top 3 suggestions that you would give universities to face the challenges ahead?
1) Focus on your campus: Whilst it’s important to think globally, ensuring your institution is as diverse, inclusive, equitable and safe as possible for your international students is vital. Without important services and intercultural understanding, international students won’t truly experience the world leading international education the UK has to offer. This is particularly the case for vulnerable students – such as refugees, asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors. It’s important that there is robust financial and accommodation support for these students, so they are able to study with you.
2) Work collaboratively: international education is one of the few areas where higher education policy makers are relatively united! If we continue to work together, we can effect change, and convince government to make it easier for international students to stay.
3) Stay positive: your students are amazing – and many of your international alumni have gone on to achieve inspirational things around the world. It’s so important that you tell these stories, to demonstrate the value of studying in the UK.
Q5. After celebrating the NUS’ International Students Conference last March, NUS’ position is to push further for an improved immigration system. What are NUS’ short term plans to lobby the Home Office for a more efficient visa process and extended visas post-studies?
NUS worked hard to lobby government through the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) consultation, and after a disappointing result we wrote an open letter to Sajid Javid, which was co-signed by many people in the sector.
Our next opportunity will be the Immigration White Paper (expected imminently!) and through the international education strategy, which we are looking forward to feeding into.
Finally, we are working with organisations across the sector to put on a series of events for International Students Day (17th November) – including our International Student Leaders Conference. Not only are we empowering students from the grassroots up, we are showcasing how much higher education values them – beyond their fees!
Hear more from Yinbo Yu at the Higher Education Conference 2018. View session details here.