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Migration Advisory Committee says graduate route should stay

Image: ALFSnaiper, via Getty Images

Government-commissioned review finds scheme does not undermine higher education’s quality and integrity

The UK’s graduate route visa, which lets overseas students remain for two to three years after graduation, should not be abolished, according to a major review out today.

Risk of abuse of the route was “relatively low”, and it was not “undermining the integrity of, and quality of, the UK higher education system”, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has found.

Brian Bell, chair of the committee, which advises the government on migration issues, said: “Our review recommends that the graduate route should remain as it is, and is not undermining the quality and integrity of the UK’s higher education system.”

The report said that under the current funding models for higher education across the UK, the graduate route is helping universities to expand the range of courses offered while making up for financial losses on domestic students and research, and is supporting the government’s International Education Strategy.

The MAC report noted that a failure to properly fund the higher education sector was “leading to an increasing overreliance on immigration”.

“Universities lose money on teaching domestic students and on research activities, and it is the fee revenue from international students that mitigates (at least in part) the current funding gap for domestic students and research,” it said.

The report suggested that without the income from international students, there would likely be “job losses, course closures and a reduction in research”. It added that “in the extreme it is not inconceivable that some institutions would fail”.

The report also found “no evidence of widespread abuse” of the route and said that the risk of abuse is low because of the limited number of conditions the route imposes.

Visa value

Bell said that the review had concluded that the graduate route “should remain as it is, and is not undermining the quality and integrity of the UK’s higher education system”.

“The graduate route is a key part of the offer that we make to international students to come and study in the UK,” he said. “The fees that these students pay helps universities to cover the losses they make in teaching British students and doing research. Without those students, many universities would need to shrink and less research would be done. This highlights the complex interaction between immigration policy and higher education policy.”

The review made a series of recommendations, including that the government should only open new migration routes or make significant policy changes when it has a clear plan for how it will collect and monitor data to assess the effectiveness of such actions.

A government spokesperson said ministers were “considering the review’s findings very closely and we will respond fully in due course”. 

Home secretary James Cleverly commissioned the MAC to carry out the rapid review in March this year.

The committee looked at evidence of abuse, demographics, as well as trends of students accessing a study visa and subsequently entering the UK labour market.