Dependent visa ban: UK varsities hit with low revenues as Nigerians turn to Canada

This policy, described as the “single biggest tightening measure” by the Home Office, is intended to curb net migration.

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Universities across the United Kingdom are grappling with declining admissions from international students, notably Nigerians, following the implementation of the dependant visa ban policy.

The UK Home Office, under the recently dismissed Interior Secretary Suella Braverman, introduced this policy to take effect from January 2024. This policy restricts Nigerians and other migrants from bringing family members to the UK.

Richard Montgomery, the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, stated in June that the policy aims to alleviate strains on the UK’s housing infrastructure and manage the influx of migrants.

The 023 Chartered Association of Business Schools (CABS) Annual Membership Survey revealed the policy’s early repercussions. About 44 percent of the UK’s business schools reported falling short of their non-EU recruitment targets for the year 2024. 

“In what appears to be an early signal of the impact of an important change to UK visa policy, nearly half (44 percent) of the country’s business schools are reporting that they will miss their non-EU recruitment targets this year,” the report said.

The survey disclosed diverse results by study level, with nearly half of the schools at the undergraduate level exceeding their targets, whereas at the postgraduate level, about 50 percent reported significantly below-target recruitment for non-EU international students.

“When reporting on performance against non-EU recruitment targets for the 2023-24 academic year, nearly three in ten responding institutions (29 percent) said they had either significantly or moderately exceeded their goal. Another 27 percent said they had met their recruitment target. 

“But the remaining 44 percent said that they fell short of their recruitment goals, of which 22 percent reported being ‘significantly below’ their target enrolment. 

“The survey report adds: ‘There is significant variation in the results by level of study for non-EU international enrolments, as at undergraduate level nearly half of the schools either significantly or moderately exceeded target compared to one-third of schools at postgraduate level,” the report said.

Interestingly, the survey highlighted a surge in enrolments from countries like India, Pakistan, and Ghana, with no reported decreases in enrolments from Nepal, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. In contrast, Chinese and Nigerian admissions have notably declined, suggesting a reversal in the growth trends from these key demographics.

According to the report, “At postgraduate level nearly 50 percent of schools reported recruitment that was either significantly or moderately below target for non-EU international students, compared to 21 percent at undergraduate level. Survey respondents reported that they were seeing some of the most significant increases in non-EU enrolment from India, Pakistan, and Ghana. 

“All these countries had more business schools seeing increases in enrolments for the new academic year than decrease. Growth in enrolments from Nepal and Saudi Arabia were also cited by several schools. None of the schools cited decreases in enrolments from Nepal, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.”

The impact is particularly felt in Master in Business Administration (MBA) programs, where Nigerian and Chinese students traditionally formed a significant cohort. These students are now increasingly opting for universities in Canada and Australia, which are perceived as more migrant-friendly.

“Many (respondents) mentioned that the change has prompted them to reassess their school’s strategy which includes shifting MBAs and Master’s programmes to online delivery if not already offered in this mode, and focusing on growing international student numbers at an undergraduate level instead. There is also a sense that the recruitment of business schools in competitor countries such as Australia and Canada is already benefiting from the UK’s decision to ban visas for dependents of students,” the report stated.

The UK government’s decision in May 2023 to prevent international students from bringing dependants (unless enrolled in postgraduate research-focused programs) was a response to the dramatic rise in dependant visas. The number of dependants of overseas students has escalated by 750 percent since 2019, reaching 136,000. This policy, described as the “single biggest tightening measure” by the Home Office, was intended to curb net migration.

The CABS survey respondents overwhelmingly anticipate negative impacts on non-EU enrolments due to this policy. MBA and other post-experience programs are expected to be most affected, as these students are often older and wish to bring their families. In response, many business schools are considering strategies such as shifting MBA and Master’s programs to online delivery and focusing more on undergraduate international student recruitment.

“It is anticipated that enrolments for MBA programmes will be most affected as MBA students tend to be older and often wish to bring their family with them. Other post-experience programmes, such as Executive Education programmes sponsored by a company, are also expected to be more adversely impacted due to students being more likely to have children,” said the report.

According to the report, the financial implications for UK universities, which heavily rely on business school tuition revenue. While there was a positive outlook in 2022, with 28 percent and 49 percent of respondents expecting significant and moderate increases in income respectively, these figures have dropped to 9 percent and 36 percent in 2023. Furthermore, 30 percent of business schools now expect a decrease in income, a stark contrast to the mere 2 percent in the previous year’s survey.

This development indicates a shift in the global education landscape, with UK universities facing challenges in attracting non-EU students and competitor countries like Canada and Australia potentially benefiting from the UK’s stringent visa policies.

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