How Australian International Higher Education Could Be Influenced by UK's Reintroduction of Post Graduate Working Visa
The British government might reintroduce its Post Graduate Working (PGW) visa for international students in the near future. The research argues that those who come to Australia to obtain a better education and professional experiences would shift to the UK for better-ranked universities, more selection of programs and shorter length of course. An appropriate number of students who aim to migrate would stick to Australia given the current immigration policy unchanged. However, the insights suggest future outcomes could be very different if the Australian government were to restrict international student pathways to permanent residency.
The United Kingdom was a popular alternative for higher education destination for international students across Asia and Europe in recent decades (Choudaha and Chang, 2012). However, in 2012, the by then British Home Secretary Theresa May removed the Post Graduate Working Rights (PGW) for international students in a bid to decrease the number and the length of international students’ stay after their graduation (May, 2011). Along with the increasing restriction to work for EU citizens in post Brexit period, the British international higher education plateaued (Grierson, 2018). Disregarding its various political motives and economic interests behind the visa removal and a series of measures in restricting international students’ right to work in the UK (Robinson, 2013), its relative popularity as a higher education destination decreased since then. On the other hand, the Australian international higher education industry experienced rapid expansion since 2012 (Robinson, 2018). From 2012 to 2018, inbound Australian international students have increased from half a million to more than seven hundred thousand, making the country from the 5th place of world international education exporter to the 2nd place (“International student data,” 2018). There are both internal and external factors which drive the Australian higher education export: the collaborative efforts made by Australian universities in delivering quality education contents, the streamline immigration track for international students, steadily increasing economics and multicultural societal settings have made Australian one of the most attractive destination of study across East and South Asia. Externally speaking, the restricting visa policy for international students in both post-Brexit UK and US under Trump Administration has also created more incentives for international students to choose Australia for higher education (Green, 2018).
However, such a trend might be subjected to a series of factors, and one of them is the potential direction of postgraduate visa reform in the UK. A very recent University UK (UUK) and Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) reports again called for reintroducing PGW as a measure to attract more international students to choose the UK as the study destination (MAC, 2018; Universities UK, 2018; Yu et al., 2018). The potential policy change would fundamentally boost UK’s preferability as an international higher education study destination, and potentially taking future prospective students away from Australia. Both Australia and UK have been selected a popular international study destination for its distinguishing education qualities and use of English in the curriculum. One of the key aspects for such advantages to aggregate, is the possibility for international students to work in Australia after graduating (Douglass and Edelstein, 2009). For most undergraduate and post-graduate students, finishing a degree in Australia grants two years’ temporary residence and working rights. The ability to work enables them to build up their international working portfolio and potential assets for being able to enter a permanent residential stream afterwards. In the UK, the current policy in attracting international students remains highly restrictive for most of the students to obtain their credentials to stay. Comparing based on the possible experience students can obtain from their post graduate working arrangements and the possibility to migrate for some, Australia is more preferable than UK for international students.
UK’s Competitive Advantages
There are two relative advantages for international students to prefer UK over Australia; those are better education credentials and more diverse selection of programs and shorter length of program. Firstly, top universities in UK have higher international rankings compare to their Australian counter parts. There are five Australian university entered the top 100 world university ranking while 16 from UK under the QS ranking system (“QS World University Rankings 2019,” 2018). Similar results are reflected in the Times Higher Education Ranking system as well (“World University Rankings,” 2017). Though these rankings are subjective indications based on a series of statistics, but University ranking has been used as an indicator of hiring in the region, even for provincial level hiring in China (“Notice on Ningbo University Hiring High Profile Talents,” 2018). Being able to graduate from a higher ranking university abroad would indicate a higher level of academic accomplishment and English proficiency for students from China and India, thus make them stand out from their domestic peers in the competitive job market (Chao et al., 2017; Hercog and van de Laar, 2017).
Secondly, British Universities offers shorter and more one-year master’s degree and three-year bachelor’s degree programs compare to Australia (“Postgraduate study | British Council,” 2018). For international students who aim to use an international education credential to boost their career both domestic and internationally, shorter length of study means less spending in tuition, living expenses and being able to enter job market at an earlier age. For instance, a Master of Science in Finance offers at the London School of Economics (LSE) contains one year of study with cost of £34,200 (LSE, 2018a). The average living expenses in London, with a monthly living expenses of £1,100-£1,300 for an LSE student, annual cost in total at LSE will be around £49,000 (appx. A$90,000) (LSE, 2018b). A similar Master of Finance at Melbourne University contains two-year study with cost of A$88,000 (“Master of Finance,” 2018a), on the top of budget annual living cost of A$20,000, the total cost of studying Master of Finance at Melbourne University will be around A$128,000 in total – which is coast around $30,000 more compare to studying at LSE (Porich, 2018). For those being able to work in UK under new visa arrangement, it would make economic sense to choose LSE over Melbourne Uni for better economic and career aspect. With UK reintroducing its post Graduate Working Visa scheme, these advantages could become more pronounced for international students who seek to build up their international education and working profiles.
Australia’s Competitive Advantages and Challenges.
Despite the listed less competitive areas, current Australian higher education settings provide more substantial migration opportunities compare to that of UK. With a recent but overall strong culture in acknowledging the positivity of migration and multiculturalism, it has a more supportive socio-academic environment for international students compared to post Brexit UK. Though the length of study in Australia is higher, international students in Australia have the chance to work legally with higher than their UK counterpart level of payments which is hugely beneficial for their financial situations. Though there are other factors to consider, especially with the current prospecting immigration-related reform in Australia itself. The shift in Australian migration policy would undoubtedly change the willingness for international students’ future engagements in Australia. In Australia, a large number of the international students enrolled in majors which will eventually enable them to be certified as a skilled migrant on the medium and long-term and medium and short-term occupation visa lists. If prospective students receive the occupation certificate and earn enough scores to reach the requirement of migration, they will either apply for an independent skill visa (189), a state sponsored visa (190) or an employer-sponsored regional visa (186/87) to obtain their Permanent Residency (PR). Though the mentioned employer-sponsored visa (457) used to be a way to obtain PR without the need of passing a career assessment, the by then, Turnbull government’s migration reform in 2017 has almost eliminated the possibility for prospective applicants to obtain a PR without getting their occupation certified (Anderson, 2017). With the current Morrison administration aiming to further modify current immigration system, aiming to create legal environment to enable new migrants to settle in regional Australia could cause potential long-term impact over the willingness for prospective students to study in Australia as well (Crowe, 2018). However further research is needed to explore how the change Australian domestic immigration policy would impact the overall outcome of education export.
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