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Source: The Pie Date: May 14, 2024

The Migration Advisory Committee has suggested retaining the UK's graduate route in its current form. "The Graduate route has broadly achieved, and continues to achieve, the objectives set by this government", states the report.

Contrary to expectations, the Migration Advisory Committee has suggested retaining the UK’s graduate route in its current form – a triumphant result for the UK’s international education sector and news that will reassure those working with international students about their overseas study destination options.

The government will now need to respond to its findings but the MAC report is unequivocal in its consideration of the graduate route as serving the purpose for which it was developed.

The MAC pointed to the change to the rule banning student dependants, only enacted in January 2024, as “in effect a restriction”, already having a negative impact on student demand – and the subsequent amends to salary thresholds for skilled worker routes accessible after the two-year graduate route also expected to reduce demand.

“The MAC’s recommendation that the Graduate route should remain on its current terms is extremely important and welcome. The uncertainty caused by the decision to review the visa has been toxic,” Vivienne Stern, chief executive of Universities UK, said in a statement.

“We hope and expect that government now listens to the advice they have been given and provides categorical reassurance that the Graduate visa is here to stay.

“We understand the political pressure to reduce migration but, as the report makes clear, changes introduced earlier this year to prevent postgraduate taught students bringing dependants have already had a very significant effect,” Stern continued.

If the government were to restrict the route significantly, “it should only do so once the full impact of the change to the dependants rules on the student route and therefore the graduate route can be seen and once it has addressed the current HE funding model which is driving the dependence on international student fees,” the report reads.

Put simply the report says, “the Graduate route was introduced to enhance the offer to international students who choose, or are considering choosing, to study in the UK.

“The Graduate route has broadly achieved, and continues to achieve, the objectives set by this government.”

The review highlights the financial vulnerability of many universities and the dependence of the HE sector on international student fees, and that any restrictions could put these universities at risk.

MAC went as far as to reprimand the government for stating in its commissioning letter that a majority of international students were switching into the skilled worker route to go into care work. “We have found the data that informed these claims do not in fact show Graduate visa holders switching into work routes. The statement made in the commissioning letter regarding where Graduate visa holders work post-route is therefore incorrect.”

While the committee found no “significant abuse” of the graduate route, it has raised concern about the “over use of recruitment agents by universities in certain markets in providing misleading information to prospective international students.”

The committee has recognised the sector’s independent Agent Quality Framework, to which almost 16,000 agents from 126 countries have signed up, but recommends that this is replaced by a mandatory government registration system for international agents and subagents.

“Agents simply do not have the same incentives as universities,” it noted.

The review recognises the benefit of international graduates as a potential pool of underutilised labour and encourages greater collaboration between the government and the HE sector to support the government’s desired labour market objectives for the route.

CEO of Oxford International Education Group, Lil Bremermann-Richard, told The PIE:

“The outcome of the MAC Review is resounding: the graduate route is effective, displays no evidence of deliberate abuse and should stay in place in its current form.

“Whilst international students are often used as a popular political football, it is welcoming to see the MAC recognise the tangible and significant economic and social benefits international students bring to the UK.”

Stuart Smith, NCUK’s CEO, said the politicisation of the Graduate Route in the first place was “not helpful to anyone”.

“NCUK fully supports the independent recommendation of the Migration Advisory Committee that the Graduate Route remain in place in its current form. We urge the Government to quickly accept this recommendation,” he added.



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