Indian students are set to benefit from an improved post-study visa regime as part of a new "International Education Strategy" launched by the UK government on Saturday in preparation for its post-Brexit policies.
The strategy is aimed at increasing the total number of international students from around the world choosing to study in the UK higher education system from the current level of 460,000 to 600,000 each year by 2030.
Indian students, who account for a major chunk of applicants from outside the European Union (EU) after China, are believed to be particularly sensitive to the post-study work option of being able to gain work experience following their degree courses at UK universities.
The new strategy, set to be rolled out in the coming years, will offer undergraduate and Masters' students the chance to stay in the UK to look for work for six months after graduating.
We know that our Indian students are ambitious and passionate about their chosen career paths, and we welcome the focus on employability in the international education strategy, said Vivienne Stern, Director of the Universities UK International (UUK), the higher education representative body which worked with the government on the new strategy.
The target to grow the number of international students in the UK to 600,000 should send a clear message to students around the world: we want you here, she said.
Under the plans being formalised, undergraduate and Masters' students will also have three months before graduating during which they can find work and change from a study visa to a work visa. At present, the process to switch from a student to work visa while in the UK is extremely complex.
Besides, PhD students will be able to stay in the UK for up to a year to find work after graduating and will also have three months before graduating during which they can find work and change from a study visa to a work visa.
"During the post-study leave period, students will have unrestricted access to work, the strategy paper notes.
Additionally, international graduates will be given two years after graduating during which they can apply to switch their UK study visa to a UK work visa from outside the UK.
"The withdrawal of the PSW (post-study work) visa was attributed with a decline in international student recruitment in the UK from key markets, notably India. Between 2010-11 and 2016-17, the number of higher education students from India more than halved, noted a report by the UK's All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for International Students in November last year.
Even Canada attracts more students from India than the UK does, warned Indian-origin peer Lord Karan Bilimoria, who has been lobbying for the return of a post-study visa option as the co-chair of the APPG and President of the UK Council for International Student Affairs.
While Indian student visa numbers for 2018 registered a 35 per cent hike to hit 19,505, that figure is seen as way below the potential applications when compared to China at 99,723 student visas.
As we prepare to leave the EU it is more important than ever to reach out to our global partners and maximise the potential of our best assets that includes our education offer and the international students this attracts, said UK education secretary Damian Hinds as he unveiled the new strategy, which is also aimed at streamlining the student application procedures for all international students.
Our education exports are ripe for growth, and my international economic department stands ready to engage and support UK providers from across the education sector to grow their global activity as we implement this new International Education Strategy, added UK trade secretary Liam Fox.
The vision for an annual 30 per cent hike in international students by 2030 is expected to boost the income generated by the UK's education exports to 35 billion pounds.
The new strategy sets its focus on not only retaining existing strong markets such as Europe, but raising the profile of the education sector in global markets such as Asia, Africa and Latin America. As part of the strategy, the government will also appoint a new International Education Champion in charge of boosting overseas activity and striking key partnerships.