International Angst: is studying in the UK worth it?

Image credit: jaaron

A couple of weeks ago Amber Rudd proposed a tightening of the visa regime for international students. She proposes restricting students at some courses and institutions in terms of post-study work opportunities, arguing for a more selective recruitment system. She argues that the current system, which allows certain privileges for recent graduates of UK degree level courses in terms of obtaining a work visa, should be limited, as they are too generous. 

What Amber Rudd, or indeed anyone in the Conservative party, seem to understand, is that perceptions are sometimes more important than legal technicalities, and especially so in relation to visas. I am coming from a perspective of both an overseas student who tried to find a post-study job and an education consultant who spent a year trying to sell the concept of British education to overseas customers. Current perceptions among British employers, reinforced by the government’s unwelcoming rhetoric, are incredibly harmful towards overseas students who invested a fortune into the UK just to be faced with blatant discrimination. 

Most employers do not want to bother with visas. When I was looking for a job, I only targeted companies which already do have a license. Half of them, including the Wellcome Trust or the V&A, for instance, wouldn’t even consider applications from people with overseas passports both for their graduate schemes and advertised jobs. One company rejected me within 3 minutes of receiving my CV and cover letter. Another one invited me for an interview only to use ‘There is no way we are going to hire you’ as the opening line. Both cited the necessity for getting a visa for me as their only reason. 

Whilst I appreciated their thoroughness and attention to detail in considering my applications, I really needed a job in order to stay in the country I devoted six years of my life and around £100K in fees and maintenance to. And I had less than two months to find one. I ended up in a low-paid administrative position at an education consultancy. The role itself did not require any special skills - you fill in forms and answer phone calls - yet a ‘master’s degree from a top university’ was listed as a must. When I left the job a year later I saw candidates from UCL or St Andrew’s being rejected because their university was not ‘top’ enough.

Why would overseas students want to invest into these future prospects? Contrary to what the Conservatives might think, the rest of the world isn’t trying to study through British degrees just in order to immigrate to the UK, but once you’ve spent some time in a country you’d like to at least have an option of having the same rights as your peers. Whatever the Tories might say, British education in and of itself does not guarantee ‘global employability’ - a number of regimes around the world would treat foreign degrees with suspicion, and most other job markets, including the US, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands or Germany (all of them UK’s main competitors) prioritise people with degrees from their own countries, often regardless of nationality. 

And all those markets look increasingly more attractive to international students. In my role as an education consultant, I constantly felt like I was selling a lie. Most of my clients were concerned about employment prospects and kept asking about them before committing their time and money to British schools and universities. The truth is, unless it is a university which truly can open doors for you, it is simply not worth the investment. If you compare universities of the same teaching and research quality around the world, what is the incentive to invest in the UK? Why go for, say, Edinburgh and not British Columbia (which also happens to be much cheaper)?

I feel like the UK government feels far too comfortable about the attractiveness of their product. Time to remember that it’s not a monopoly anymore- the current situation, and the damage it has on UK’s economy will take decades to repair.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Related Stories

In this section

Across the site

Best of the Rest