The growth in the student accommodation sector closely parallels the increase in the number of international students. We have observed how student mobility trends affect and shape the PBSA sector. Some of the key factors that impact the student’s choice of study destination are:
- Availability of renowned higher education universities and the subjects they want to study
- Simple visa rules and ease of getting the permit to study in the country
- Cost – accommodation, tuition fee, duration
- Language of instruction – most international students prefer English
- Work permit – many students dream of working in the study destination
In the light of these facts, the announcement by the UK Home Office to ‘streamline’ and simplify the British visa application process for students from 11 more countries that are considered as ‘low risk’ are highly relevant. This list already contains other countries like Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia and the USA.
Student applicants from the countries in this list do not have to furnish proof for English skills, educational or financial requirements – this makes it much easier for the students to get the visa. Usually, it is the omission of documents related to these requirements that result in rejection of applications. In the words of Caroline Nokes, the immigration minister, this step “demonstrates the continued focus on improving the UK’s offer to international students.” This step is particularly relevant in the context of Brexit and the threat of decreasing student applications from EU nations.
The inclusion of 11 new non-EU countries in this list – China, Mexico, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Bahrain, the Dominican Republic, Kuwait, Macau, the Maldives, and Serbia – provides an incentive to the students in these countries to study in the UK. Let’s take a close look at how this will impact the flow of students to the UK:
1) Continued increase in the number of Chinese students: China is by far the biggest contributor of international students to the UK, with the numbers rising from 83,730 in 2012-13 to 95,090 in 2016-17. The number of Chinese applicants has been rising steadily since the last 5 year and with the relaxed visa rules, we can expect these numbers to rise faster in the coming years.
2) Possible fall in the volume of Indian students: India is right at the top of the list of non-EU countries supplying students to the UK, along with the US and Malaysia. The number of higher education students from India has dropped consistently over the last 5 years, falling from 22,375 in 2012-13 to 16,550 in 2016-17. The Indian media has expressed rage at India being excluded from the relaxed visa rules. This development is likely to push the UK down on the list of preferences for India students, with the numbers declining further.
3) Overall increase in applications to the UK from other non-EU nations: While it is too early to track an increase in international student applications from the countries that will now have relaxed student visa requirements (the changes come into force on July 6), we can expect to see more approved applications and increase in the number of students from these regions also.
Impact on the student accommodation sector
The student accommodation sector in the UK continues to go from strength to strength, primarily because the demand of student housing far outstrips the supply. In order to sustain this growth, continued flow – and increase – in the number of international students to the UK is essential.
Boasting several celebrated and top-rated higher education centres, the UK is the 2nd most popular study destination for international students, behind the US. Post-Brexit, the numbers of applications from EU-countries are expected to decline. The relaxed visa requirements will encourage a larger number of students from these countries to study in the UK, ensuring that the flow of international students to the UK continues unabated.
This is good news for the student accommodation sector and it will ensure that socio-political and economic factors don’t hinder the growth of this sector in the UK.