Conclusions and recommendations
Over the last two decades, policies targeted at international students have become a crucial part of the global competition for talent. Countries worldwide are competing to attract and retain international students in various ways, including by offering post-study work programmes. In recent years, many countries have introduced post-study work schemes or reviewed existing ones with a view to increasing their attractiveness to international students. The UK, however, has moved in the opposite direction than its competitor countries and closed down its post-study work scheme in 2012.
On the basis of this review we can state that the UK’s current post-study work offer to international students is much less attractive than that of any of its global competitors. All of the countries covered in this evaluation, that is the non-European competitors – Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States – as well as the European competitors – France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Sweden – have more generous offers. For instance, Germany and France, which are currently growing their international student rates much faster than the UK, have recently revised their post-study work offers to ensure their greater flexibility and openness.
The UK currently allows international students to remain in the country for 4 months to look for work after completing their studies. If they fail to find a job offer allowing them to move onto a work visa within this time they need to leave the country. Meanwhile, all of UK’s competitor countries allow for a longer stay and in the case of most, much longer, ranging between 1 and 3 years. Moreover, in a number of countries graduates are granted a considerable length of time to apply for the post-study work scheme per se upon completing their studies: in some cases even up to 3 years and after leaving the host country. Furthermore, most competitor countries now offer completely flexible work conditions as part of the post-study work scheme, with no restrictions on type of work carried out or number of hours worked. Therefore, the current UK offer of post-study work opportunities is indeed highly limited in comparison to the much more flexible offers of its competitor countries.
It needs to be noted here that the UK Government has put forward plans for restructuring Britain’s post-study work offer after Brexit, when a revised immigration policy is to be implemented. The new system is to offer graduates with bachelor’s and master’s degrees 6 months to seek work with no restrictions and PhD level graduates 12 months. Nevertheless, even if such an offer is indeed introduced, it is still rather limited in comparison to that of UK’s competitor countries. 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 has found that:
- the post-study work offer is effective in attracting and retaining international students in the short-term, and the more flexible the programme, the higher its uptake;
- although post-study work schemes may support retention, international students’ decisions to stay longer-term depend on a wide variety of factors, including employment opportunities, ties developed in the host country, and how they feel there;
- a post-study work offer alone is not sufficient to ensure longer-term retention of international students; this must be supported by a number of other policy measures, such as language support, integration support, availability of affordable healthcare, housing and others.
Concluding, with a view to improving the UK’s competitiveness in terms of attracting and retaining international students, the following recommendations can be made:
1. To introduce a more competitive post-study work offer taking into consideration: ease of application and time given to apply, programme length, work entitlement, and opportunities for applying to the programme after leaving the UK;
2. To introduce additional measures supporting the longer term retention of international students, such as: language support; integration programmes; provision of information and advice on the UK labour market and employment opportunities, as well as conditions of stay, and life in the UK; creating opportunities for establishing professional networks;
3. To ensure systematic monitoring of the programme and its implementation in order to prevent its potential misuse and negative impact on the beneficiaries (and also to evaluate its effectiveness).