The impact of UK visa policy changes on International Student Recruitment

April 7, 2024

Ridhima Chatterjee

We recently attended The PIE Conference 2024, an annual, two-day event where education marketers gather to present ideas, exchange experiences and build meaningful relationships in the education industry. Our favorite part of the conference is always Question Hour, where institutions present their biggest pain points of the year, giving us a sounding board for our own elevator pitch. 

The question on everyone’s minds this year was eerily predictable: 

What’s the impact of the recent UK visa policy changes on International Student enrollments? 

And how should universities react to the changes while also grappling with shrinking budgets, unpredictable market conditions, and the UK's decreasing appeal as a study destination?

In today’s blog, we aim to give you a holistic understanding of what these changes mean for your higher education institution. Ready, set, let’s make lemonade. 

What’s changed? 

The political landscape in the UK is ever-evolving, we know that much.  But more recently, we’ve seen an increased emphasis on tightening the immigration policy. Whether it’s the issue of small boats, sending refugees to Rwanda as a third, safe country, or reducing the rights of international students, the wide range of measures being discussed all have to do with curbing migration to a point where the influx is sustainable for public systems such as the NHS. (Now, this seems fair on the surface, right? It’s really the execution that’s, well, questionable.)

Between June 2022 and June 2023, the net migration stood at 672,000 with 152,980 visas issued to dependents of students. This was a 930% increase in the number of dependents if compared to September 2019. 

While it is debatable whether this is a step in the right direction or a power play by the ruling government – all higher education institutions can do at this moment is to brace themselves for change. Don’t worry, change can also be a good thing – we explore this in later sections, so keep reading till the end! 

Here are the proposed changes:

1. A potential student may not be able to bring family to the UK. 

From January 2024, students will no longer be allowed to bring dependents (such as family members) to the UK on a study visa. However, one silver lining is that this comes with an exception: Students pursuing a postgraduate research degree or a post-doctorate degree such as a PhD will be allowed to bring dependents. 

2. Post-study experience is taking a hit 

Starting July 17, international students won’t be able to change to a Graduate Visa without completing the original course of study. Changes are anticipated on the Graduate Visa as well which raises more concern for universities looking to attract students who would like to stay in the UK after graduation.

The government is also increasing salary thresholds across the skilled worker visa by nearly 50% to £38,700 – a further blow to the post-study experience for international students. 

3. There has been a sharp increase in the health surcharge for migrants

On 4th October 2023, the cost of student visas increased by 35%. This includes application fees as well as the health surcharge, meaning potential students will not only shell out big bucks on program fees but also pay much more simply to obtain a student visa.  

Other countries such as Canada and Germany do not have such expensive visa fees, which means UK universities could potentially lose students to other countries due to the unwelcoming changes to the immigration policies. 

What does this mean for higher education institutions?

1. The UK, despite being a top destination for education worldwide is becoming less attractive to international students

What can universities do about it? Our recommendation is to test campaigns with more positive messaging about the UK as a study destination, help students understand policy changes through student-led content, and use agent marketing in the home country coupled with a paid marketing strategy if possible, to boost credibility.

Remember: The UK might not be favorable as a study destination due to the policy changes but still makes for a wonderful place to study, given the melting pot of cultures one can find here, the quality of education as well as the country’s importance in world affairs, which makes it the locus for the world’s biggest companies. 

2. Universities might need to provide Home Country job support

Many students are now planning to return to their home country for job opportunities after completing their studies in the UK. Universities should act on this insight and offer students career support in both the UK and the home country. 

3. Universities need to consider Virtual Options to diversify enrollment 

Universities may also want to expand online or experiment with blended learning options. This caters to students who may not be able to relocate entirely due to the dependent policy. 

4. It’s time to identify dependent markets

Higher education marketers may also want to pay close attention to the markets that have the highest number of international students with dependents. Understanding key markets in 2024 will give universities more insight into tailored messaging and improved audience targeting and segmentation. 

5. Local agents will have a stronger in-country influence 

Many markets, especially in the East, are dominated by agent marketing. Students in countries such as India and China often use agents instead of applying directly to the university. We recommend creating a more robust in-country marketing plan with agents instead of working in parallel,  or without them entirely. 

6. Increase the focus on postgraduate marketing

There’s always an exception to the rule, and in this case - postgrad is it. For students that have chosen, or would like to choose the UK as a study destination - and bring their dependents along - keep the focus on postgraduate degrees. The key? Communication. Always make sure that your messaging addresses their concerns, desires, and post-graduation career interests. 

The silver lining: Your university can now create a unique competitive advantage for itself whether that lies in paid marketing, agent-led marketing, or student-led organic content on social media. 

Showcasing program strengths, offering competitive financial aid, and catering to a broader student profile through targeted marketing are some other ways you can improve your international student recruitment efforts this year, despite policy changes.

The thing about policy changes? They tend to create a sense of uncertainty - and with good reason. You’re in the prime position to address these concerns head-on, to ensure that potential students still consider you. It’s pretty simple, really. Be open and honest. Address the changes. Acknowledge its implications. And reassure your prospects that you have their best interests at heart. Then, they’ll more than likely do the same for you. 

At Pink Orange, we have equipped a host of UK universities with a marketing machine that feels human to the touch. Think fully automated funnels for student engagement that take the guesswork out of your marketing – the best of marketing tech married to content that’s inspired by students and their desires, wants, and aspirations. With local language expertise and successful CAC decreases for universities like yours in a matter of months, we’ve made great things happen for the education sector. 

Want to join the fun? Reach out to our team here


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