The UK remains to be one of the most preferred study destinations for its world-renowned universities that offer extensive courses, a multicultural environment, and excellent teacher training standards and methods that produce future-ready graduates. 

Contrary to predictions that the pandemic would result in a devastating slump in UK’s international education sector, UK’s Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) reported that international student numbers taking higher education reached record highs during the 2019/20 academic year, surpassing 500,000 for the first time to reach 556,625 and representing a year-over-year increase of 12.15%. The reporting period includes the first five months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Early this year, the UK government updated its International Education Strategy to enhance international students’ application process, graduate outcomes and employability, academic experience, and alternative student finance. The government and the universities are striving to ensure that students continue to receive high-quality education without sacrificing health and safety through flexible learning options such as online studies or deferred intake.

The Government’s global education agenda is definitely a win-win for both the sector and the international students. With UK reaffirming its commitment to the ambitions of the 2019 strategy of increasing education exports to £35 billion per year and hosting at least 600,000 international students in the UK per year until 2030, aspiring international students can expect a great deal of support from this day onwards.

Along with the appointment of the International Education Champion, Sir Steve Smith, in June 2020, here are some of the UK government’s initiatives that support international education:

  • Competitive student immigration offer.  The UK ensures its education programs for international students are globally competitive and attractive. In line with this, several routes and initiatives dedicated to international students were launched in 2020 and some for this year.

The new Graduate route, to be launched in September 2021, allows students who have completed an undergraduate or master’s in the UK to stay in the UK to work or look for work, for 2 years. International doctoral graduates will be able to stay in the UK for 3 years after they have completed their studies in order to contribute to the UK economy.

The Student route now enables prospective students to make immigration applications from outside the UK, removes study time limits at the postgraduate level, and allows students at all levels to apply for further leave as a student or to move into another immigration route from within the UK.

  • Distance/blended learning. To ensure that the delivery of the UK’s world-class education is uncompromised, distance or blended learning is permitted throughout 2020 to 2021 academic year. International students will remain eligible to apply for the Graduate route provided they arrive in the UK to complete one term’s face-to-face learning.
  • The new Turing scheme. Backed by over £100 million, the scheme will be providing funding for around 35,000 students in universities, colleges, and schools to go on placements overseas, starting in September 2021.
  • Enhanced international student experience. The government will work with sector bodies such as the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA), the Office for Students (OfS), and the Confederation of British Industry on areas such as the student application process for international students, graduate outcomes, and employability, the academic experience of international students, and alternative student finance.

While the world continues to navigate and recover from the pandemic, the updated 2021 International Education Strategy should give confidence to any individual aspiring to earn a UK education.