In this interview with the Guardian via telephone UK minister for Immigration and Future Borders, Kelvin John Foster says leaving the European Union will bring positive changes for international students coming into the United Kingdom (UK).
*Are you nostalgic about leaving the EU. Is it having any negative impact on your educational system?*
We recognise that the UK leaving the EU will bring changes for students who are coming into the United Kingdom. But we see it as part of having a global playing field, where we should judge people coming to the UK on what they have to offer, and what their skills and talents are. So we believe that the new points-based global system from the 1st January allows the UK to exercise its own choices and is firmer and students globally will be accessed on exactly the same criteria. And also it’s one that we believe gives a much more streamlined process, as we’re taking the opportunity to simplify our immigration rules as well. So for example, those who are coming to study at a university in the UK may no longer need to sit a separate English Language test if they have already proven to the university their English language skills are up to the level they need for their course.
So, we believe that yes, it is a big change happening on the 1st of January with the end of free movement from Europe. But we believe it is one that sets up the UK to have a better fairer, global approach to migration. We’re looking forward to welcoming more students.
As a global leader in the education sector has the issue of education become so important at this point, when containing the pandemic has been the issue?*
It is very important we get international students particularly from countries like Nigeria to still come to the UK even with the background of the pandemic. Our new Student Route is open for applications, and we are delighted to get a good number of applications from Nigeria. Last year, we saw over 9,000 students granted a visa to come to the UK to do their studies and we are hoping to build on that in the future, but the number this year have of course been impacted by COVID19 restrictions on travel. We are very enthusiastic about the new scheme, and the new system should be simpler and easier for those who are studying at our top-level world-class institutions.
*As a global leader in research and innovation, what is the UK doing to ensure there is a viable vaccine to contain the pandemic?*
Well we have a number of research programmes the government has funded – the most high-profile trials are at Oxford University and Imperial College London – both of whom have vaccines in advance test stages.
But this is a global effort and our institutions are working with colleagues across the world to get us to the place where we can have an effective vaccine. And in particular, I know colleagues in the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) are keen that they can support efforts to ensure that as the vaccine becomes available it is also available in countries across the world including to developing health systems which have also been put under the same pressure western health systems have. We’re very keen that a number quality students are able to come from Nigeria to the UK to be part of this type of research efforts and we see that there is real talent available in Nigeria.
*You talk about having the brightest and the best of students from all over the world, for your educational sector. What are you doing to strengthen the educational system in less developed countries?*
Well what we see is that those coming to study at our world-class UK institutions in many cases take all their skills and what they’ve learnt back home. And whilst we welcome those who decide to make the UK their home on a more permanent basis, similarly, we know many will enjoy their time in the UK, get a world-class education and train the next generation of doctors in their home country.
One of my classmates, when I was in university, was from the Mauritius and he went back having studied law alongside me, and helped enrich my own experience of learning the subject. He went back to work in Mauritius in the government’s legal system there. So I think this isn’t just about a one way street of people coming to the UK and staying. It’s very much a two-way process that also means some really talented people can get the skills, get the education they need, and then head back to Nigeria to help build up the education system there.
*Education in the UK is expensive yet most of the bright and best students are from the less privilege homes. How would you be able to get across to such students?*
We realise that fees need to be paid. But we make the point that the earning potential of those who have degrees from UK universities is very high. People can support themselves, we do allow those studying at a degree-level to work for a certain number of hours per week whilst they’re here in recognition that they may well need to do some part-time work beside their studies to support the cost of their studies. And we believe these are fees are internationally quite competitive as shown by the increasing numbers of application we are seeing from around the world. And there are individual scholarship funds that do exist. But certainly, we believe the fees are competitive and people will get their money’s worth once they get their degree.