Less than two months ago in February end, British education and other officials were hailing the spike in the number of UK student visas issued to Indians, but now despair that many will not arrive, come September, putting billions of pounds in income at risk.
Unions and university officials have sought a rescue package from the Boris Johnson government to ensure the survival of centres of higher education; some were facing major financial challenges before the coronavirus hit the sector.
According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, nearly 270,000 international students were expected to start courses in UK universities this autumn, but recent reports from China – the largest non-EU group among international students – say many will stay away. There are similar indications from India,
The fee income from international students was nearly £7 billion last year.
The number of student visas granted to Indians in the year ending 2019 had almost doubled from the previous year (up 93 per cent to 37,540), the Home Office announced on February 27, spreading cheer among stake-holders.
As the Home Office analysis said, “This was the largest number of grants to Indian students since the year ending September 2011”. There was a major drop of Indian students since 2012, when the post-study work visa was scrapped (it has now been revived).
Indian and other international students typically pay at least three times the fees applicable to home and EU students, besides contributing to the British economy in accommodation, maintenance and travel costs.
Universities UK, the umbrella organisation representing UK universities, says that in the current financial year (2019-20) the sector is facing losses of £790 million from accommodation, catering and conference income as well as additional spend to support students learning online.
“In the next financial year (2020-21) the potential impact is extreme, with universities projecting a significant fall in international students and a potential rise in undergraduate home student deferrals”, it said in a paper sent to the Johnson government.
Some universities have begun terminating short-term contracts of lecturers and researchers. The loss of income from international students is crucial to the sustenance of departments and academic jobs, particularly at the postgraduate level.