UAE students set to flock to the UK after visa reforms, experts say

A move to allow students to stay in the country for two years after graduation to seek work puts the country 'back in the game' as a leading destination for overseas learners

MET9R6 UCL Students in Gordon Square, Bloomsbury, London UK in the spring sunshine
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A growing number of UAE-based students are applying to universities in the United Kingdom, with an overhaul of visa regulations set to spark a further increase.

Education consultants in the Emirates said a move by the UK government to allow international students to remain in the country for two years after graduation to search for employment was proving attractive.

The introduction of the post-study visa, announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in September, reversed a policy implemented in 2012 that forced overseas students to leave the country four months after finishing a degree unless they found work.

Fiona McKenzie, head of education at Carfax Education said she has witnessed a "steady" increase in numbers of UAE-based students looking to continue their education in the UK.

“Nearly 64,000 international students applied to study in the UK in 2019, a nine per cent increase on the previous year according to the UK-based educational research organisation, ISC Research, and this is surely set to rise further now [after] changes to the visa rules permitting students to stay on and work in the UK for two years after their degree finishes,” said Ms McKenzie.

“We are seeing a steady year-on-year increase in students from the UAE wishing to apply to UK universities.

"The UK is welcoming to international students again, which brings it much more in line with United States and Canada.

“It puts the UK back in the game for international students."

Ms McKenzie said the most popular disciplines for students were medicine, law and engineering while there is also a growing interest in the creative arts.

The majority of UAE students applying to the UK choose to be in London, with top choices including Queen Mary University of London and University College London. The University of Manchester and University of Leeds are popular destinations outside of the capital.

Shyamala Elango, director at education consultancy, Inner Universe, agreed the rule change was proving significant.

Shyamala Elango, director at Dubai-based education consultancy, Inner Universe, said the UK was an attractive option for UAE students. Reem Mohammed/The National    
Shyamala Elango, director at Dubai-based education consultancy, Inner Universe, said the UK was an attractive option for UAE students. Reem Mohammed/The National    

“There is at least a 20 per cent surge in applications. A number of students are picking the UK now because the post-study work visa allows them to at least apply the knowledge they have gained," said Ms Elango.

“Earlier students only had four months to find employment, which is very difficult, and they had to spend their final year working on their resumes and looking for jobs.

"Now, they can finish their studies and look for a job as they will have sufficient time."

Martin Finn, co-founder of EdComs, a recently launched communication agency specialising in education, said despite concerns over the effect of Brexit, the UK's education sector maintained its strong standing across the world.

“The reputation of education in the UK has proven resilient to the political turmoil around Brexit and the wider effect that has had," he said.

DUBAI , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , JUNE 22– 2018 :- Fiona McKenzie , Head of Gabbitas , an education consultancy in Dubai at her villa in Jumeirah 1 in Dubai.  ( Pawan Singh / The National )  For News. Story by Anam Rizvi
Fiona McKenzie, head of education at Carfax Education. Pawan Singh / The National 

"Regarding the change in the post-study visa, common sense would say that will attract more people but we do not know whether that is the sole cause or not," he said.

"The university sector in the UK is thriving and it has been able to expand rapidly."

Sanjeev Verma, chief executive of education consultancy Intelligent Partners, said that many students had been deterred from moving to the United States, making the UK a more enticing prospect.

"The option to stay back in the UK may be a major contributor but it is only a contributor," Mr Verma said.

"Students were being pushed away from the United States because of [President Donald] Trump's policies.

"There is a lot of uncertainty as students want employment and now that has become unreliable in the United States."

He said that although students would continue to move to the UK to further their education, the litmus test would be securing a job.

"With Brexit, the situation is extremely fluid," he said. "The knee-jerk reaction is to apply, but will there be jobs?"