UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s India visit is unlikely to bring any advantage in education and employment opportunities for Indians looking west.
Britain used to be the preferred destination for higher education, coupled with lucrative employment in related fields of study, for people from many countries, including India.
But not any more, as the country's immigration laws get tighter and the impact of Brexit surfaces slowly.
Britain is slipping from its position of strength, even as May comes on a four-day visit to India in damage control mode to revamp the British economy, especially from post-Brexit economic shocks.
On November 7, she is expected to inaugurate the India-UK tech summit in New Delhi to forge new economic ties which are supposed to benefit both counties.
UK universities and consultants who work with students locally say there’s been a sharp fall in the number of applicants.
They say that from almost 55,000 students two to three years ago, the number of UK-bound students has dropped to 10,000 as they choose other countries for graduation.
Universities reported as much as 35 per cent decline in Indian students last year alone.
This, they say, can be attributed to two factors. The UK has become stringent about reducing its net migration from two to three lakh to under one lakh people, and the other is UK’s decision to leave the European Union.
Since 2012, UK visa policies mandate that once students complete their courses, they have four months to find a job in the discipline they had studied and earn a minimum salary of £20,000.
|UK visa policies give students four months to find a job in the discipline they had studied and earn a minimum salary of £20,000. (Photo credit: India Today)|
The Chopras, a New Delhi-based consultancy firm that facilitates admissions, says the British education sector is suffering because of this decision. They report that middle-income students are dropping out as they can’t stay on to get jobs and clear loans.
Those with limited means are no longer applying because of strict visa policies which are affecting students who want to work in the UK to be able to pay off education loans. Brexit is also a factor in this decline.
From sending about 4,000 students two years ago, the consultancy now sends about 1,700 students.
The drop in the number of Indian students at Newcastle University has been significant , from 108 last year to 71 this year across graduate-level programmes, says Richard Davies, pro-vice-chancellor for engagement and internationalisation.
"It is hard to attribute this decline to one factor alone, but we are very unhappy with the 35 per cent fall in Indian student numbers," he adds.
In addition to the visa issue, Brexit is another and Theresa May plans to scrutinise students' visas further, explains Davies.
Lord Karan Bilimoria, chancellor of the University of Birmingham, said the government’s decision to crack down on visas is economically illiterate, adding that the UK has made a huge mistake in trying to reduce net migration by imposing restrictions on international students. "This decision is damaging our economy," he adds.
Hope May’s visit will bring some hope for Indians. A lot depends on how much Prime Minister Narendra Modi is able to wrangle out of the visit.