A public sector pay deal balanced on the backs of students from the Global South

Ahead of the summer recess, Rishi Sunak has announced a raft of new offers to settle ongoing public sector pay disputes.

Jim is an Associate Editor at Wonkhe

At a press conference the Prime Minister announced that the government would accept all the recommendations of the independent public sector pay review bodies – with new deals on the table for teachers, junior doctors, consultants, dentists, the police, prison officers, civil servants and the military. It also announced a package to fund a pay offer for teachers in further education.

The British Medical Association (BMA) says its offer is well below what is required, although in schools four major unions have agreed to call off industrial action and recommend the offer to their members. Nothing is on the table for higher education, of course – although UCU general secretary Jo Grady, who is due to meet the employers for talks today, said that the offers “make UCEA’s position on pay untenable”.

In the press conference, Sunak was keen to stress that the deals will not be funded by more borrowing or increases in tax – and said that instead they would be funded through “efficiencies” and a raft of increased immigration charges. In Parliament Chief Secretary to the Treasury John Glen announced that the cost of work and visit visas will rise by 15 per cent, study visas will rise by at least 20 per cent, and the immigration health surcharge will rise to £1,035.

The increases for international students are eye-watering. It currently costs £363 to apply for a student visa from outside the UK, and £490 to extend or switch to a student visa from inside the UK. Glen said that the two options would be “equalised”, which presumably means that both routes will now cost £588 – so students applying from outside the UK will see an increase in application costs of 62 percent.

In addition the health surcharge will rise – the main rate will increase to £1,035, and the discounted rate for students and under-18s will increase to £776 – a 65 percent increase on the current student rate of £470 a year. A one year international PGT student faces paying £531 more – and that’s before they pay more to get onto the graduate route.

Cash cows

It was one thing to fund the massification of higher education on the backs of international students. The government now appears to have extended the principle – funding basic public services in part from fees from students from the global south.

In a way it’s all pretty unsurprising. The sector massively overshooting original projections of demand increases due to the graduate route always risked causing steps to be taken to depress demand, and has evidently caught the eye of the Treasury – assuming it can coin it in without totally killing that demand.

And of course the inclusion of the immigration charges in the announcement is relatively arbitrary in the grand scheme of things – it could easily have announced the increases separately. But the juxtaposition of both sides of this income and expenditure account looks to have been deliberately and divisively framed.

For international students, it’s a significant blow – asking them to fund the settlement of all the public sector pay rows except the one that actually impacts them feels especially rough.

It isn’t happening yet – but I have a feeling that the way we exploit international students in the UK will soon move from polite resignation to deep, visceral anger.

It’s not like home students, most of whom have never known anything other than being ignored and have little faith that anything will ever change. This is about selling dreams and then providing a direct, in your face kick in the teeth to accompany growing class sizes, insufficient facilities, profiteering from housing to prop up pension funds, weak careers support and education quality, safety and protection regimes that don’t really work.

The moment they realise their “talent bursary” was really a sticker price discount and their acceptance letter was not as scarce as they imagine is bad enough. Realising that the course the university said they could do is really difficult without support that isn’t there and that they’ll need to live miles away given the shortage of housing is another insult.

Not graduating on time or having their dissertation never marked, and then charging them for graduation is another hit. Accusing them of cheating when trying to perfect their English is another blow.

Soft power? Spreading British values around the world? I really do hope not, if this is what has come to represent said values.

3 responses to “A public sector pay deal balanced on the backs of students from the Global South

  1. The briefing to the media has been that increased visa income will contribute £1 billion towards the estimated £2 billion cost of the pay review packages with DFE finding savings from items like tutoring, skills bootcamps and other underspends. It’s all pretty opaque at the moment but the increased 16-18 rates (which will go to colleges and school sixth forms) is a recycling of money within the 16-18 budget because the student number growth anticipated back in 2021 hasn’t happened (turns out demography isn’t destiny).

    Home Office visa and immigration income was £1.5 billion in 2018-9, rose to £3.5 billion in 2021-2 (most recent available accounts) and will be higher now and in future on the back of rising numbers and rising prices. Application of market principles to the immigration system. Restrict the free entry; raise the price for those with tickets

  2. When the governments of the ‘global south’ sponsors students, who make up huge amount of some Universities incomes, it’s unsurprising HMG wants a slice of that pie. That many manipulate the system, apparently applying for UK student ‘loans’ that will never be paid back, when UK students who’ve dropped out through no fault of their own have the bailiffs set upon them to ‘recover’ their student loan, also needs to be taken into consideration.

  3. @John your claim about international students applying for UK student loans is absolute nonsense. International students cannot apply for student finance, one of the requirements of funding is that the applicant has to have been living in the UK for three years prior to the start of the undergraduate programme. If they are not a UK or Irish national, they also have to have ‘Settled’ status…i.e. not ‘Student’ status!

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