The Graduate route response is here

And it’s mostly as expected if you’ve been keeping up with the papers this week

Michael Salmon is News Editor at Wonkhe

Following pressure from the Cabinet – or just in the knowledge that an election was imminent and there was no time for any detailed policy development – the Prime Minister was widely reported to have backed down from serious reform to the Graduate route.

A lack of actionable evidence from the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) may have played a part, though probably less than you’d think.

It’s been an open secret that action on the MAC’s recommendation for a mandatory agent framework would be adopted, and we now have confirmation – if no details – that the government will propose this:

Following Migration Advisory Committee’s recommendations, rogue agents recruiting international students will have their business model smashed.

The proposals would regulate the recruitment of international students, cracking down on rogue recruitment agents who encourage people to apply to British universities by mandating universities to sign up to a stringent framework for agents.

We also have confirmation, rather than just leaks, that the government is proposing sponsorship conditions be more rigorously enforced:

Tougher compliance standards for institutions recruiting students from overseas will be introduced. Those who accept international students who then fail to pass our visa checks, enrol or complete their courses, will risk losing their sponsor licence.

There’s lots of evidence that UKVI has not been rigorously enforcing the 85 per cent completion minimum off the back of issued CAS – at least until recently – and while corks may pop in public this afternoon, it’s almost certainly the potential need to bear down on completion rates that will cause the most concern internally inside universities from here on in.

On the question of sturdier English language requirements, first reported in the Sun (and very much not part of the MAC review’s findings), this is somewhat downgraded to the existence of an ongoing review:

The government is already reviewing English language assessments with the objective of standardising independent assessments, ensuring all international students are equipped with the skills to understand their course materials – or they shouldn’t expect a spot at a UK university.

More importantly, the proposal today is that financial maintenance requirements be raised, “so international students will have to prove their financial self-sufficiency.” These maintenance requirements have not been increased in a long time, essentially meaning that international students are misled about how expensive it is to live in the UK. No news yet on what level that will rise to – perhaps HEPI’s work on a minimum income for students would be a useful start.

Finally, there are to be “restrictions on remote delivery” in order to ensure all overseas students are “predominantly undertaking face-to-face courses.” This sounds very much what we have previously reported about new UKVI regulations on contact hours – the sting there to think about is the detail on what counts as “remote” (proposed as, broadly something you don’t have to come in for), and “face to face” (something you very much do need to come in for). Attendance monitoring and/or recorded lectures come into sharp view for providers concerned about UKVI scrutiny.

The government says that it remains concerned that the route is “not attracting the highest earners who contribute to our economy,” and it will be kept under review – a job for the next government, at this point, though you wouldn’t bet the house against a manifesto pledge.

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