Home » Leave the Graduate Route as it is, MAC tells government

Leave the Graduate Route as it is, MAC tells government


An independent review of the politically charged Graduate Route, which allows international students to stay in the United Kingdom for two years after graduation to try to find work, has recommended that the government leave the post-study work visa scheme in its current form.

The review by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) was ordered by the UK’s Home Secretary James Cleverly, who was under pressure from right-wing elements in the governing Conservative Party to curb migration and stamp out any abuse of the Graduate Route.

The rapid review was only given two months to complete its work and reported on 14 May, 2024, that it found “no evidence of widespread abuse specifically for the Graduate Route” and concluded that the graduate work visas were “not undermining the integrity of and quality of the UK higher education system”.

The MAC chair, Professor Brian Bell, reported: “Our review recommends the Graduate Route should remain as it is.”

He said: “The Graduate Route is a key part of the offer that we make to international students to come and study in the UK.

“The fees that these students pay helps universities to cover the losses they make in teaching British students and doing research.

“Without those students, many universities would need to shrink and less research would be done. This highlights the complex interaction between immigration policy and higher education policy.”

Concerns about agents

However, the review did raise “concerns about potential exploitation” of both student and graduate visa holders due to poor practices by certain agents who recruit students into courses and may be mis-selling UK higher education – but the committee said that was a separate issue.

It recommended that the government establishes a mandatory registration system for international recruitment agents and subagents and that universities should be required to publish data on how much they spend on recruitment agents and the number of international students recruited through such means annually.

The findings of the MAC review were welcomed by UK international higher education stakeholders approached for their immediate reaction by University World News.

Government yet to respond

However, the UK government has still to respond and say whether it agrees with the recommendation not to interfere with the Graduate Route, which a previous Conservative Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, wanted to cut to just a six-months to find a skilled job.

Braverman introduced a ban on international taught postgraduate (masters) students from bringing dependants with them from the start of this year, which many UK universities blame for a 40% fall in the January intake of international students, as University World News has reported.

Around 114,000 Graduate Route visas were granted for main applicants in 2023 with a further 30,000 granted for dependants, said the MAC report; with four nationalities – India, Nigeria, China and Pakistan – accounting for 70% of all Graduate visas. India accounted for over 40%.

Most of the growth in international Graduate Route visas has been among masters students in non-Russell Group universities.

The MAC report said while it appears Graduate visa holders are initially overrepresented in lower-paid work, their outcomes – including wages – improve over time and around half moved on to Skilled Worker visas.

Chorus welcoming the findings

Stuart Smith, chief executive of NCUK, a leading global pathway provider, was among a chorus of higher education stakeholders welcoming the MAC findings.

He told University World News: “Politicising the Graduate Route is not helpful to anyone, and we fully support MAC’s recommendation that the Graduate Route remain in place in its current form. We urge the government to quickly accept this recommendation.”

Another pathway provider boss, James Pitman, managing director of Study Group and Chair of Independent Higher Education, said: “All eyes are now on the government to respond to this important report.”

He told University World News: “The Graduate Route is helping UK universities to expand the range of courses to all students and cross subsidising domestic students and vital research.”

He urged Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to “remove all doubt and reaffirm the future of the graduate route so the UK is again able to communicate a genuine welcome to talented young people from across the world”.

Chris Skidmore, a former Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation in the UK Conservative Government in 2019-20, who has been chairing an International Higher Education Commission (IHEC) to review the UK’s international education strategy, said: “It was never clear what abuse was supposed to be taking place.”

He told University World News: “Continuing to offer the Graduate Route, whilst addressing mis-selling and ensuring that we have the data to manage and monitor its ongoing performance is undoubtedly the right way forward.”

Dr David Pilsbury, chief development officer for the Oxford International Group which has been providing administrative support to the IHEC, said the MAC review outcome “carries all the more weight because it is based on evidence and insight, whereas too often we in the sector rely on passion and anecdote”.

Nic Mitchell is a UK-based freelance journalist and PR consultant specialising in European and international higher education. He blogs at www.delacourcommunications.com