In a move that has raised concerns among industry stakeholders, the upcoming ban on dependent visas for taught masters students in the UK is expected to disproportionately affect female students. The policy change, set to take effect in January 2024, has the potential to disadvantage female applicants who often bear family responsibilities while pursuing higher education. The ban, yet to have its official statement of changes published, has sparked discussions about its implications for gender equality in education. Female students, particularly mature applicants, are more likely to have dependents and could face challenges in balancing family responsibilities with their studies.
What the Universities are saying
Jamie Arrowsmith, director of Universities UK International highlighting the concerns, said “While the vast majority of students will be unaffected by proposals that limit the ability to be accompanied by dependents, more information is needed on the programs that are in scope before a proper assessment of the impact is made. “We do know that any changes are likely to have a disproportionate impact on women and students from certain countries.”
Figures indicate more women are being affected
- Nick Hillman director of the Higher Education Policy Institute think-tank tweeted, saying, “There’s a gender angle to the new announcement on international students, which is likely to get missed. A large majority of the international students who bring dependants to the UK are women.”
Hillman, again voiced his concerns on social media, indicating that he had seen unpublished figures suggesting that up to 69% of students who bring dependants to the UK were women. According to a FindAUniversity survey of 869 prospective international master’s students conducted in March and April, prospective female students are more likely to be turned off by the removal of dependent visas if their dependents could not accompany them.
- “It’s concerning that the government may not have thought of these potential effects in designing its policy. It’s also possible that our data may understate the impact of this change, given that responses were collected before the policy was confirmed,” director of Audience & Editorial at FindAUniversity, Mark Bennett, said.
- “Whatever someone’s views on migration, it’s surely clear that UK higher education opportunities should be equally open to all students; excluding cannot be the intention or effect of this policy.”
UK Masters versus leaving children behind
As it stands, it appears that female students must choose between the benefits of a UK master’s degree and leaving their children behind for a year or more.
Rebecca Fielding, the founder of immigration consultants Grad Consult, also chimed in on social media, saying that “International female students [will be] much less likely to travel if they have children. This policy will be detrimental to everyone, especially women.”
Dependents are currently defined as a spouse, partner, or child, but not as extended family members like siblings or parents.
Iona Murdoch, policy officer for UKCISA, expressed her personal dissatisfaction on Twitter, writing, “No words properly express how I feel about this policy.” “We have always provided advice for students who want to bring dependents to the UK to study can get detailed advice from UKCISA. It specifies the necessary financial requirements for an application, such as proof of maintenance funds, a health surcharge, and the right to work”.
Nigeria is the largest source market for family-oriented applications
Stakeholders lament that the policy did not take into account current data or engage in forecasting, which will now seriously affect the opportunities for women to come to the UK.
Mature applicants seeking career opportunities in fields like healthcare have increased in their numbers as a result of the introduction of the graduate route visa. This visa route was a deliberate UK higher education strategy to attract and retain graduate talent from Commonwealth countries. William Burns, regional manager at Loughborough University, highlighted the impact for sponsored students from certain countries. He says, “The UK government must consider exemptions for fully sponsored students coming to the UK for masters study. While not impossible, it is difficult to imagine female master’s students from Saudi Arabia coming to the UK without their spouses. And so their freedom to study here would be heavily restricted almost immediately”.
This is also true for female students from Nigeria who make up a large chunk of the number of international students. For instance, reports indicate that Nigeria has been identified as the largest source market for family-oriented applications over the past year.
Now with this policy, it is unlikely to attract international female talents from family-oriented countries such as those from the Middle East and especially those from Nigeria.