Opportunities for students to study abroad ‘could be lost’ without visa reform

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Opportunities for university students to study overseas could be lost without visa reform from the Government, vice-chancellors have warned.

EU exchange students are shifting from year-long placements at UK universities to shorter placements –  and some have opted out of studying in Britain altogether, according to the Universities UK (UUK).

If there are fewer exchange students in Britain due to the visa system, then opportunities for outbound visits for UK-based students could be lost, it says.

UUK, which represents 140 universities, is calling on the Government to extend the time that short-term exchange students are permitted to stay in the UK on visitor visas from six months to one academic year.

Maintaining or increasing the numbers of students coming to the UK on exchange will be “crucial” to the success of the Turing Scheme – the post-Brexit replacement for the Erasmus exchange programme, UUK has said.

Research by UUK suggests that, on average, 12,900 EU students a year – or a third of all exchange students coming to the UK – are “at risk of reducing the length of their exchange, or not coming at all”.

A move to extend the length of the visitor visa for students to one academic year would increase the benefits to the UK economy and create the conditions for the success of the Turing Scheme, UUK said.

Vivienne Stern, director of UUK International, said: “International students who come to the UK on short-term exchanges are important to the UK for a number of reasons.

“Like full degree students, they add to the diversity on our campuses and contribute to our economy by spending money on goods and services while they are here, but they also create opportunities for UK students.

“Exchange students open up places in other universities around the world for our students to spend time studying abroad. Without inbound students, we risk losing opportunities for outbound visits.

“That’s why we want government to make sure that the visa system works for incoming exchange students. We think this is really important if we want to make the Government’s newly launched Turing Scheme a success.”

Maggie Wootton, study abroad operations manager at the University of Birmingham, said: “Incoming students are an integral part of international exchange programmes, unlocking study and work experiences for UK-based students at universities worldwide.

“Success of the Turing Scheme depends on the availability of global placements for our students, meaning it is essential for the UK to be seen as an attractive destination of study.”

Iona Murdoch, president of the Erasmus Student Network UK, said: “The current six-month period in place means students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds struggle to go abroad for long mobility opportunities and are unable to afford the upfront costs of the alternative visa types, therefore limiting their own opportunities to study abroad and limiting the contributions they bring.

“Longer visas will allow students more time to settle in and will have more time to contribute, engage and volunteer for the local community to benefit themselves as well as society more directly.”

A Government spokesman said: “Turing Scheme placements are not conditional on international exchange students travelling to the UK.

“We have over 41,000 UK students taking up life-changing work and study placements in this academic year alone, in over 150 countries around the globe.”

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