Visa concessions – but will they enrol?

The volume of international students from red-list countries due to enrol into UK universities this autumn has been described as a “time bomb” for the government today, despite newly allowed visa concessions designed to ease the issue.

Jim is an Associate Editor at Wonkhe

i News reports this morning that Sanam Arora, from the National Indian Students Union UK, says that up to 55,000 Indian students are hoping to arrive – and that while some universities in Scotland will be allowed to pilot quarantining red-list arrivals in on-campus halls, there is no equivalent plan for students coming to England.

Uncertainty means many are considering their options, says Arora. “Everyone is deferring their decision till the very last minute… £1,750 on top of fees is quite a significant cost for them. A lot are still in that confused state of should we come, should we not come?”.

Meanwhile, speaking at the UKCISA conference yesterday, immigration minister Kevin Foster announced that there will be an extension to the Covid visa concession that enables distance and blended learning. This concession will extend to cover the first two semesters of the 2021-22 academic year, with international students having until 6 April 2022 to arrive in the UK, and aims to avoid a surge in travel and quarantining measures in the next few months.

But for Arora the concession may not be enough. “For the ones that do start in September some universities are already telling them the first semester is going to be online. We have had queries from students saying my university is going to be remote again for the first semester, is it worth it, is it value for money?”.

The announcement of the concession was welcomed by sector bodies, but this deals with the problem of a large bulge of international arrivals in a particular way, which in turn could create plenty of headaches at home. It almost certainly means lots of teaching will be delivered exclusively online, which will be a problem for those students that were “sold” and, for their mental health, need the in-person experiences.

It’s not immediately clear that “come to Fibchester, pay your rent, watch your lectures in your room. Why? Because we need to invoice the internationals that the government wouldn’t let us quarantine in halls” will really work as a message or play well in the press.

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