The UK’s offer to enable overseas students to stay and work once their studies are over compares “poorly” with international competitors, according to a new report.
Proposals for reforming the post-study work offer following Brexit should be revised and extended if the UK wants to retain its “competitive edge” against other countries in attracting and retaining international students, the review recommends.
Glasgow University academic Paulina Trevena carried out the review, commissioned by the Scottish Government, which compared the UK’s current post-study work offer, and the one proposed once the UK leaves the EU, with nine other countries.
Since scrapping its post-study work visa in 2012 – which had enabled students to stay and look for work for two years after graduation – the UK now allows international students to remain in the country for four months to look for work once their studies are completed.
Under post-Brexit immigration proposals, this would increase to six months for graduates with bachelor’s and master’s degrees and a year for PhD level graduates.
The report found both the current and proposed offers “limited” compared with the other countries examined: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the US, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and Sweden.
In these countries, international students are allowed to stay and look for work for between one and three years following graduation, and in some cases have up to three years to apply for the post-study work scheme after leaving the host country.
The review also found post-study work offers are effective at attracting and retaining international students in the short term, but of themselves are not enough to secure long-term retention.
The review recommends the UK Government introduces a more competitive post-work study offer, as well as additional measures to aid long-term retention of international students, including language support and integration programmes.
Ms Trevena said: “Opportunities for gaining work experience are important for international students.
“Meanwhile, the UK’s current and proposed post-study work offer is far less attractive than in its competitor countries.
“Brexit and the negative atmosphere around immigration also discourages international students from coming to the UK, especially those from EU countries.
“If the UK Government aims to keep a competitive edge in attracting and retaining global talent, it should consider revising migration policies towards international students and strengthen practical support for those wishing to stay.”
Migration Minister Ben Macpherson said: “Like many other developed countries, Scotland faces challenges relating to an ageing population and labour shortages, and the need to attract highly skilled labour in the knowledge economy.
“Brexit and the UK Government are making this worse, as the UK looks increasingly insular and less attractive.
“The Scottish Government has long argued for the return of the post-study work visa, to allow students studying for all degrees at bachelor level and above to be able to remain in the UK for two years after graduating.”
He said UK immigration policies are “not delivering adequately for Scotland” and called for a tailored immigration policy for Scotland, which the UK Government has ruled out.