Local business leaders in Oxfordshire tell Chancellor: Keep graduate visa route to protect research

Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (OxLEP) has joined university and business leaders to warn the government against watering down or scrapping the graduate visa route.

In total, 17 leaders from Chambers of Commerce and business networks from across the UK have collectively written to the Chancellor to warn against watering down or scrapping the graduate visa route.

The letter, which was coordinated by the University Alliance group of universities, including Oxford Brookes University, has also been signed by leaders from the Russell Group and Universities UK.

The letter has been sent ahead of the Migration Advisory Committee’s review of the graduate visa route set to be published on Tuesday 14 May. 

The signatories argue that if the government were to make any restrictions to the graduate visa route in response, it would have a “serious impact upon R&D capacity and return on government investment, besides causing damage to the wider economy.” 

Across the constituencies covering its campuses, international students at Oxford Brookes University generate £328m for the local economy every year.

The letter cites:
  • Data collated by IDP Connect that indicates that if the graduate route were removed, 45% of international students would study elsewhere. Modelling by PwC shows that even if less than half of that projection came to pass, 80% of universities would be in deficit by 2026.
  • That research & development at UK universities delivers a significant return on public investment: in England, the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) generates £8.30 for every £1 of funding.
  • The fact that the higher education sector itself is the second largest investor in research in the UK, spending £5.6billion on research in 2021.
  • That most of this investment is generated by tuition fee income from international students. In turn, fewer international students in the UK will mean reduced investment in R&D.
  • Any move to restrict international students would come at a time when the higher education sector is already under significant financial pressure and threatens to reduce universities’ workload capacity for research, innovation, and business support.
Nigel Tipple, Chief Executive, Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “Oxfordshire benefits greatly from the number of international students who study here every year. They contribute significantly to the regional economy and are a key reason why the county has such an excellent reputation for welcoming the world’s best and brightest minds. International students boost our local economy, support vital R&D, and enhance innovation activities. This is why I have joined business leads and universities in writing to the Chancellor to urge him not to reduce or remove the graduate visa route. Such an approach would not only harm Oxfordshire, but UK PLC as a whole.”

Professor Alistair Fitt, Vice-Chancellor, Oxford Brookes University, said: “The higher education sector is extremely concerned at the possibility of any cuts to the graduate visa route. This is a view shared by a wide range of organisations and business networks in Oxfordshire and across the UK, as demonstrated by the broad coalition of signatories to our letter to the Chancellor. We are proud at Oxford Brookes to welcome students from around the world and they bring so many fantastic benefits to our community. We are urging the government to understand the significant risks of any change in policy which would harm not only our students, but those of the higher education sector and the wider economy.”

Vivienne Stern MBE, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said: “We’re incredibly lucky so many international students choose to study here; they enrich our campuses, generate jobs and strengthen our soft power in the world – yet we seem intent on dismantling all of this. The Graduate Route is an essential part of the UK’s competitiveness in our offer to those students. It underpins a £37 billion export market, the employment of over 230,000 people in higher education and the UK’s position as a science and research superpower. Any changes to the graduate route will affect every university and region in the UK.

“The government has invested a great deal in UK research and development because they know it helps drive badly needed growth. International students cross-subsidise UK research to the tune of around £5bn a year, and a decline in numbers will inevitably mean a decline in the UK’s research power. Universities of all shapes and sizes will need to make difficult choices about where to invest diminishing resources. This will mean further cuts to staffing, courses and research investment. The business community and the higher education sector alike are worried about this because we know what it means: a crushing blow to our local economies.”

Dr Tim Bradshaw, CEO of the Russell Group said: “A thriving university sector is critical to the UK’s R&D efforts, and ultimately to the growth of our economy and our global standing. Partnerships between universities and businesses are creating jobs and generating growth across all regions of the UK, delivering great returns on public investment.

“Placing further restrictions on international students would cause unnecessary damage to our R&D infrastructure and our economy, leading the UK to lose out on global talent and skills, as well as the tuition fee income that helps to educate UK students and fund vital research.”

Professor Jane Harrington, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Greenwich and Chair of University Alliance said: “International students add £37 billion to the UK economy every year in education exports and cross-subsidise UK research to the tune of £5bn. If the graduate route is restricted, UK universities will become less globally competitive, and the government would need to find ways of covering the significant losses to research funding and wider export income caused by declining international student numbers. This would be an extraordinary economic own goal.

Together with business, we are urging the Chancellor to protect the considerable investments the Treasury has made in R&D, and to prioritise the longer-term impacts for our country.”

Read the full letter here.