Dependants of international PGTs won’t be able to get a visa

So it’s looking pretty nailed on then. The FT reports that ministers are poised to stop family members from joining international PGT students at UK universities, an announcement set to coincide with the publication of ONS’ net migration stats for 2022 on 25th May.

Jim is an Associate Editor at Wonkhe

As we’ve noted on the site before, when you (re)introduce a graduate route visa, for a few years you have numbers creep up to a “new normal” before they fall again when students eventually leave – so drawing conclusions in the middle of that ramp up is a little odd.

But on the other hand, UUK International’s Jamie Arrowsmith sort of says it all when he says that even accepting that ramp up thing, numbers have been very buoyant:

We recognise that the growth in the number of dependents may have exceeded planning assumptions and that this has created some concerns for government, and indeed challenges in some areas of the UK – for example, around access to suitable family accommodation.

No wonder the FT is reporting that Gillian Keegan has given up arguing over the PGT and dependant point – and is now resigned to attempting to get clearance on dependents once people get onto the graduate route.

The planning thing matters. I won’t labour a point I’ve gone over on the site before here, suffice to say that in England alone, either:

  • a) there were 250k bedspaces suitable for students lying empty in England’s student cities in 2018
  • b) the PRS/PBSA sectors have built/freed up 250k bedspaces, or
  • c) students are now living too many in a room/too far away/paying extortionate rents

In other words, the student accommodation crisis that is looming is very basic failure of planning – where an endless series of senior people in both the sector and government have tended to tacitly blame everyone else, and have allowed landlords to blame tax and safety/quality reform for a “collapse” in supply – threatening/delaying the appearance of a renter’s reform bill in the process.

As such any move away from the sort of learned performative helplessness that I have tended to see is good news – like the terrific piece from Dundee’s Wendy Alexander on the site this week which deserves attention, or the briefing note issued by UUK last Friday on supporting good practice in student accommodation, framed as “considerations” for senior university leaders.

On one level the idea that some of its content is effectively framed here as a “jolly good idea” rather than an absolute minimum is a little galling.

You would think that universities shouldn’t need to be told that “it will be important for universities to continue to make regular, realistic assessments of likely future demand for accommodation from their students, and the corresponding housing supply”, but that’s in there.

You’d imagine that asking senior managers to reflect on whether teams responsible for student recruitment and admissions, both domestic and international, engage regularly with the teams responsible for accommodation in relation to student number planning is all a bit grandma and sucking eggs – but that’s in there too.

And asking universities to consider if the local authority is aware of student number projections and accommodation supply for the coming years, so that they‘re being considered in local housing and planning policy (along with consequential impacts on other local services like transport and education), also seems like something you’d think everyone would do before they double their international PGTs, not afterwards.

Still, mustn’t grumble. It’s a decent list of the sort of things I’d be looking for assurance on if I was on the governing body of a university, and a great first stab at the wording of a condition of registration on the issue from the regulator if universities don’t otherwise get their act together on what they can control and influence in this space.

As I’ve argued here before, most students studying away from home expect to be able to access a home that’s reasonably priced, safe, reasonably suitable and within a reasonable distance from campus. If we are to fund the massification of UK HE on the backs of the savings of families from the global south, this feels like the least the UK should offer.

Funnily enough, the market can’t magic up new types of supply when you increase demand really fast. It turns out that expanding business schools is easier than expanding places for students to live. So either steps are taken to stimulate the supply, or steps are taken to reduce the demand. As such, whatever is coming on 25th May is unlikely be the end of the story.

3 responses to “Dependants of international PGTs won’t be able to get a visa

  1. As a staff member responsible for supporting international students with a wide range of welfare issues including housing, this news brings me a huge amount of relief. Me and my colleagues have been worked to the bone to try and support the huge numbers of international students with dependants, and a reset on this is absolutely needed if the HE sector is going to be able to recruit and retain staff. I’m fully aware of the expected impact on student recruitment as a result of this change but the uncapped growth which many institutions have experienced has had such an impact on support staff, and on the support we can offer to our students. Of course, the impact on staff has been nothing compared to the experiences of many international students who have arrived expecting to be able to find cheap housing, well paid part time jobs and adequate schooling and have faced significant difficulties trying to access all of this. The last few years have been a nightmare for many involved, both staff and students, and I’m glad of the chance for a reset.

  2. “‘International students deliver huge benefits to the UK, and our attractiveness to global talent is a real success story. Central to the growth in numbers we have seen in recent years – which contributes more than £25 billion a year to our economy” Jamie Arrowsmith, Director, Universities UK International.

    As ever, follow the money.

    ‘Dependants’ all too often isn’t just spouse/s and children, we’ve had parents, brothers, sisters, even cousins who have claimed dependency arrive, which puts huge pressure on University accommodation provision in many cases. In others it’s simply a way to bypass immigration controls and they disappear in short order into the ghetto’s in the major cities to ‘live’ in converted garden sheds and garages and work in the black economy. Universities have been enablers, sometimes inadvertently, others however…

  3. I am very much pro the government on this. Why should a postgraduate student bring their partner and dependants for a one-year course? It damages the credibility of our institutions and the reputation of our sector as some backdoor gateway for alternative immigration.

    If international undergraduate students at the age of 18 can study by themselves for 4 years, then I see little reason for why genuine postgraduate students can’t study by themselves for one year.

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