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27 June, 2017
In the run-up to the Brexit referendum, academic institutions were largely and vociferously opposed to it. There were two clear reasons for this. Firstly, the education sector (particularly the tertiary education sector) wants to have its pick of the best students from around the globe. Secondly, students from outside the EU pay much higher fees than their local counterparts and this can provide a valuable source of income for them.
Now, in addition to facing Brexit, academic institutions are also facing the prospect of changes to visa rules, which could make it less appealing for international students to come to the UK.
Student visas, a long-term source of controversy
Student visas have long been a thorny subject. This is partly because students currently have the right to work part-time during their studies and full-time in the holidays, which, of course, can set them into competition with local workers.
It is also partly because student visas are open to the potential for abuse in the sense of overstaying and/or a person using their time in the UK to arrange a marriage. Those involved in the education sector would probably point out at this point that in order to get to the UK in the first place, students would first of all have to qualify for the relevant course (which in some cases is very difficult) and secondly have to provide proof of their ability both to pay their fees and to live in the UK, therefore they are likely to come from well-off backgrounds and be disinterested in the prospect of abusing their visa.
Unfortunately, headlines can carry more political weight than statistics and hence the issue of student visas has become politically contentious, which is doubly unfortunate for those involved in the sector since Brexit means that more students will be in need of them if they wish to come to the UK to study.
Changes to student visas may impact the student accommodation market
While UK nationals who study in the UK may have the option to live at home, international students are very likely to see finding accommodation as a top priority and to be guided by their university’s recommendation.
This reality has led to private developers working in cooperation with universities to build halls of residence which cater to the needs and wants of modern, affluent, students. Long gone are the days of “Rising Damp” share-houses and in their place there is “des res” accommodation for discerning students, whom locals are often very happy to have as neighbours, particularly since the availability this customer base encourages private companies to enter the area and offer the sort of services associated with high-end neighbourhoods (artisinal bakeries, coffee shops, gyms etc), hence contributing to the improvement of the locality as a whole. Because of this, the prospect of visa restrictions making the UK less attractive as an academic destination has the potential to disrupt more than just the market for student property investment.
With this in mind, it is to be hoped that universities will step up to the plate and take every opportunity to highlight the general attractiveness of the UK as a place to live and to emphasize how welcome they will be if they choose the UK as a study destination.
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