Changing the Graduate Route would be a supreme act of self-sabotage

Cranfield University vice chancellor explains how the Graduate Route enables a pipeline of highly skilled students to work with British industry

Karen Holford is chief executive and vice chancellor at Cranfield University

When I take a jog around campus or drop into one of the cafes around Cranfield University, I see a true melting pot of talented postgraduates and academics, drawn from right around the world, deep in discussion, building friendships and forging connections that will last a lifetime. Diverse opinions and cultures are shared and celebrated; global links are sparked; and ideas blossom.

This fortuitous meeting of minds is exactly what universities are here for. But if we’re to believe hysterics in certain sections of the media, international students are taking over our universities, playing the system to take up low-paid jobs, taking UK students’ places and draining our national resources.

That’s not what I see – and plenty of others will tell you the same; including many of the industry partners that we work closely with at Cranfield.

They are facing a real challenge globally in skills shortages and universities have a key role to play in addressing this, building a pipeline of talent for both the UK and international markets. The Graduate Visa Route is helping fulfil that need. It brings ambitious international students to the UK, giving them a chance to sample working life, contribute to the UK economy, and gain experience that makes them much more desirable employees both here and in their home countries.

And it has a tangible impact on employers seeking to fill those crucial skills gaps. The Graduate Visa means UK businesses can take on talented people who are right up to date with the latest research and development. They gain graduates who have been exposed to industry-led training, and in what’s effectively a two-year extended job interview the visa gives them a chance to evaluate graduates’ performance before making a longer-term commitment to employment through a Skilled Worker Visa.

Highly skilled

At Cranfield we’re known for our close connections to business and for our world-leading research, which is trusted and conducted with high levels of integrity. Our work-focused applied research and teaching environment is a real draw to people who are ambitious and career focused. Many of our students take up internships or complete projects with industry to work on real-life problems as part of their course – this really gives them an edge when it comes to building relevant skills and securing work in the UK and back in their home countries.

Building employability through experiences such as this is a critical factor in their choice of university. Being able to work for a period in the UK also means that international students can more readily afford the higher quality of education that we provide. Our international students include people like Abhishek Makkattil from India, who completed a six-month project working with Airbus as part of his course, focused on solutions for wing fuel tank testing. Graduating in 2022 from the Aerospace Manufacturing MSc course, Abhishek got a job as a Manufacturing Engineer at Hamble Aerostructures before recently securing a new role at Airbus.

Like many UK universities, Cranfield offers a tailored careers service which is very hands-on in helping steer students in developing a whole set of skills and connecting them to business. Added to this are the industry contacts that our academic staff have, giving students the chance to build connections and work on projects in a business environment. And this pays off – graduates from Cranfield have taken up roles in large multinational companies including Airbus, Amazon, Jacobs, Scottish Power, Network Rail, Rolls-Royce, Jaguar LandRover and Mitsubishi.

Many of our international students go into the UK jobs market via the Graduate Visa, gaining industry experience for a year or two before transferring these skills to positions back home. International employers then benefit from people who have had a period of time in the UK labour market – a very attractive prospect to many.

The real reputational risk

There’s no doubt in my mind of the value of international students, and that UK universities are a great prospect for them. They want to come and study here because of the quality of our education and to have the experience of studying and working internationally, which gives them a real edge when it comes to building a career back at home.

That the government continues to talk down the contribution of international students, giving the Migration Advisory Committee an eye-wateringly tight deadline to review the effectiveness of the graduate route so close to a general election, shows that the UK is in great danger of destroying its reputation as a welcoming destination for the brightest and the best.

We get clear benefits from this approach – these students contribute to the UK economy while they are here (to the tune of £37.4 billion according to a Universities UK International report); they help fill the gaps in our skilled labour market with employers benefitting from talented graduates from around the world; and they bring a diversity to campuses, creating vibrant learning opportunities and preparing students for success in an interconnected world.

What the Graduate Visa doesn’t do is give students automatic rights to stay in the UK. That’s something that seems to have been forgotten in this debate, but it’s a crucial bit of context. 80 per cent of international students leave the UK within five years of arrival and we’ve seen no evidence to suggest that people are abusing this route.

The Graduate Visa isn’t a route to immigration, but it is an extension to students’ time in the UK, helping them gain skills and contribute to our economy. It is a key part of the UK’s appeal to international students. We shouldn’t be rushing to pull this rug out from under their feet, and risk damaging our global reputation.

Put simply, the Graduate Visa creates opportunity – for international students yes, but also for businesses in the UK and internationally; for domestic students in terms of their experience and networks; and for UK universities. Changing it would be a destructive step, hindering and undermining a simple and effective measure that benefits so many.

3 responses to “Changing the Graduate Route would be a supreme act of self-sabotage

  1. I would advise the author to “jog” around a post-92 University campus and see the Multitudes of Business Management students whose contribution to the economy will be as stewards at local sports venues on graduation.
    One could argue that the report from the University of the United Kingdom indicates that the financial benefits accrued by international students stem from their tuition fees and local spending in the economy, rather than direct wealth creation from employment.

    1. I am afraid this response tends to align with the ‘popular media rhetoric’ that she had referred to, which tends to ignore the facts and true stats. Yes, there are a few persons who willingly do menial jobs even with MBAs because they do not want to pay back student loans, but that is prevalent among home students who have access to social welfare.
      Most international students sacrifice their life savings and incur heavy debts that they must pay back upon graduation. As such, they would not settle for unskilled work over skilled ones that would maximise their potentials. Besides, those from Africa, Asia and South America operate extended family systems so have responsibilities back home. They would thus not settle for £15000 p.a. over £38000 p.a., but the system seems to be rigged against them, so they are forced to make do with the low paying roles so they can at least start repaying debts.
      If recruitment processes were fair and transparent, without bias, many of them would outdo a lot of those on those jobs. Some of the hiring managers know and feel insecure, so they keep them at bay. While many may refuse to admit this, it is what it is!

      1. Ohhhh, can I please clap for Bob?…clap!!! Clap!!!!. He has captured this very well, the truth is that the system is rigged against most international students. When some of them attend interviews you can see that they probably know more than the person conducting the interview as most of them are already established professionals in their home country who ultimately combines superior qualification and experience that far outweighs that of the person sitting down to interview them, so it won’t come as a surprise that they often get snubbed out of jealousy. To keep life going some of them are forced to pick up low paying jobs so that they can continue to help their people back home. UK will be the greatest loser in this ongoing debate as foreign students will likely move to other countries and universities will be forced to cut staffs in a bid to stay afloat as some of them are doing already. I wanted to pay £15000 for my junior sister to come for her masters in the UK but with all this anti immigration rhetorics, she is going to Canada instead of coming here. That’s money diverted out of the system….Now think about thousands of people all over the world who are probably making that same decision…

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