Many developed countries worldwide are currently facing the challenges of ageing populations and labour shortages, including for highly skilled labour in the knowledge economy. It is increasingly recognised that in these terms, international students are a valuable resource: they are young, an ‘adjunct workforce in waiting’, and, unlike highly skilled migrants recruited from abroad, face no regulatory barriers, plus are familiar (at least to some extent) with the host country’s culture, language and institutions. Therefore, countries entering the ‘global competition for talent’ are increasingly developing competitive migration policies aimed at attracting and retaining international students. One of the key ones is the post-study work offer.
The aim of this review was to evaluate how the UK’s post-study work offer compares against its main competitor countries. Nine countries were chosen for the review: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the US outside Europe, and France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Sweden within Europe. The comparator countries were chosen on the basis of three criteria: their post-study work offer, numbers of international students they attracted, and, in the case of non-English speaking countries, high numbers of academic courses offered in English. The review was based on a variety of sources including academic literature, administrative evaluations, governmental websites, statistical databases, policy documents and others.
The review demonstrated that the UK’s current as well as proposed post-study work offer (as part of the new post-Brexit immigration system) compare poorly with those of its international competitors. Therefore, if the UK wishes to maintain a competitive edge in terms of attracting and retaining international students by means of its post-study work offer, this should be carefully revised and further extended.
More generally, this review found that the post-study work offer is effective in attracting international students and retaining them in the short-term: the more flexible the programme, the higher its uptake. Nevertheless, an attractive post-study work offer in itself is not sufficient to ensure longer-term retention. This must be supported by a number of other policy measures, such as language, employability and integration support; availability of satisfactory employment; affordable housing and healthcare; and an overall welcoming attitude towards migrants in the host country.
The report concludes that to improve its global competitiveness in terms of attracting and retaining international students, the UK should:
- Introduce a more competitive post-study work offer taking into consideration ease of application and application timescales, programme length, work entitlement, and opportunities for applying to the programme after leaving the UK;
- Implement additional measures supporting the longer term retention of international students, such as: language and employability support; integration programmes; provision of information and advice on conditions of stay, employment opportunities, and life in the UK; creating opportunities for establishing professional networks;
- Ensure systematic monitoring of the programme and its implementation to prevent its potential misuse (and evaluate its effectiveness).