UK Student Visas: How Will the New Regulations Affect MBAs?

Despite stricter rules and less perks, business schools insist the UK remains an attractive place for MBAs to study and work.

Home to many of the world’s top-ranked schools, and an attractive place to launch careers in a whole range of industries, the UK has long been a popular destination for international MBA students. British business schools received 35,000 GMAT score reports from around the world last year – more than any other European country.

Until now, attractive terms for student visas have contributed to the country’s appeal.

But as of April 2012, new regulations on student visas introduced by the British Home Office will do away with some of the perks that drew overseas students to UK institutions.

The new regulations will enforce higher standards of English-language competency for incoming students and tighten up requirements for students to prove they are able to support themselves financially for the duration of their study in the UK.

But the most significant change is the removal of the current post-study work (PSW) scheme that allows students to stay on and work in the UK two years after their graduation. Instead, graduates will have to switch over to the current “tier-two” visa scheme that requires them to have “sponsorship” from a prospective employer.

“In terms of MBA students, of course, [the PSW scheme] was something that would be attractive at any stage in their studies,” says Dina Giannikopoulou, a researcher at the UK-based Association of MBAs (AMBA). “But things haven’t changed so significantly that they won’t be able to work in the UK.”

“Just from a PR perspective, it sends a bad message that that guaranteed opportunity is now gone,” admits Giannikopoulou, “but there are still opportunities for them to stay.”

As long as MBA students secure a position before or within a few months of graduating, they will be allowed to stay on and work in the UK. An overall cap has been placed on “tier-two,” highly-skilled migrant visas, but the good news is that MBA students who find a placement in time will not count towards this cap.

“It falls to the business schools to market be able to get a job and stay in the UK, you don’t have to rely on the post-study work visa.”

British universities have been vocal in their opposition to the new regulations. A survey conducted by the London School of Economics found that for 56 percent of its overseas students, the post-study work visa was a factor in their decision to study in the UK.

Meanwhile politicians opposing the new regulations have argued that further education is big business in the UK, and that discouraging foreign students is economically counter-productive. Business schools, in particular, tend to have a very international student body.

Westminster Business School, for example, has 89 percent of its current full-time MBA cohort coming from overseas.

“The regulations pre the change were very good and we have liked those to continue.” says Westminster MBA Director Susan Balint. “But that being said, the changes as they are now are not as bad as we expected, and we don’t think that it will have too bad an impact on our student numbers.” But that doesn’t mean the school is being complacent about the new rules.

“We realize is that the implication is we’re going to have to give [our students] more support in finding a suitable position here once they’ve finished their course,” says Balint.

She also says that there are other reasons why students might find themselves leaving the UK after graduation – reasons that have nothing to do with the availability of visas.

“The option of staying here was a big draw, but in reality very few of our students took that offer up,” explains Balint.

“A lot of them go back to their home countries straight away," she says. "In the last few years Britain has been going through a bit of a recession, and our international students – particularly those coming from India and BRIC countries – are finding that there are more exciting opportunities for them in their home countries.”

At this stage, business schools are counting themselves lucky that the new regulations won’t be hitting them as hard as other areas of education. But they may have to work harder to maintain their position on the world stage. Until application figures for the next academic year are in, business schools won’t know for sure how the new regulations are being viewed by potential students.

“Anecdotally, what the schools are telling us is that their applications are down from this time last year,” says the AMBA's Giannikopoulou. “Based on what we are hearing, yes, there is a negative impact because of the policy changes, but we won’t really know how deep that impact is for a while.”

Image: Vaughan Leiberum / Creative Commons

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