British PM Cameron attempts “spinning”. India Visit fails Education agenda of PSW, Equivalence and Security!

English bowlers are beginning to excel as spinners and some believe that Mudhsuden Singh Panesar, known as Monty Panesar is currently the best spinner in the world. It appears that even the UK PM attempted spinning while in India and had relative success. He told media and government that Indian students continue to be welcomed in UK and there is just no issue with student visas.

The believers amongst the newspapers even indicated that the British Government was announcing sops and easing visa restrictions. The reason why I say that it was an attempt at confusing the market is because the student visas was not the reason for UK being unwelcoming at all. Yes, UK student visas have been easy student visas to get as compared to several other competing countries.

The Indian students have been finding UK unwelcoming a destination primarily thanks to the following three issues and not the least because of anything to do with student visas:

  1. The removal of Post Study Work last year has denied the Indian students an opportunity to gain some work experience following his investment in the British studies. Whether the students take that up or not, is another issue and the fact remains that Indian students do want this option to be available to them when in reality all other major destinations: US, Canada, Australian and NZ offer some possibilities in this direction. The UK PM made it appear that there is no change and that the students looking at Graduate level will have work options open. This is not a 100% accurate statement since there are some clauses now and it is not just getting a job but a job that can pay a certain salary that will make them eligible. Further after a year study at Masters level, it is going to be very difficult for a student to show a job offer immediately to be able to change the visa category. The Post Study Work option that was there in UK till last year allowed the student to easily gain experience and find a job.
  2. The second issue that has been bothering students is the fact that though the UK PM refers to the British degree as globally recognised and at par with the best in the world, Indian Government’s AIU has declared that degrees that are of the length of UK Masters (1 year) are just not valid Masters equivalent in India for employment or further education. Now the justification being given is that most of the graduating students are only applying to private sector and so this should not bother them. I disagree. There are several who are looking at doing a PhD in India or there are several who are looking at becoming lecturers or apply for jobs within teaching at Universities in India. They all have to produce equivalence certificates and this is not being awarded for graduates from UK institutions at Masters level. Jobs within public sectors or certain type of contracts etc too require the equivalence to be shown. The interactions of the UK Government with the Indian counterparts have failed to give the desired results. The indications are that UK Masters degrees will continue to be unequal to Indian Masters and so will remain invalid as Masters in India. One compromise that is being talked of is that the UK returning students may be able to add on some further education in India and then get the equivalence to an Indian Masters. Too difficult to implement and we will see when the time comes. Hence the UK PM’s push in this area too failed.
  3. The third area of concern that has been there in recent times is the issue of security. Some deaths in recent times of Indian students in UK including one this year itself indicate that Indian students in UK too have the same risk level as those going to other parts of the world. None of the press releases issued have mentioned anything on this front that can reassure the Indian parents. Even an attempt to meet the parents of the students affected in recent times could have helped.

An article in UNIVERSITY WORLD NEWS titled CAMERON VISIT DIDNOT TACKLE KEY HIGHER EDUCATION ISSUES details:

The visit of British Prime Minister David Cameron to India this week has left Indian students disappointed that he did not address important higher education issues. There were no concessions on the UK’s post-study work visa for non-European students, and there was little progress on tackling non-equivalence of UK masters degrees in India, they said.

“There was nothing new. I had hoped that Cameron would strongly woo Indian students by offering alternatives to the post-study work visa. But these concerns were not addressed,” said Mohit Agrawal, a final-year student at Delhi University who is looking to do a masters abroad.

The UK government’s policy of allowing foreign students to stay for up to two years after graduation to work was scrapped last April. 

Stringent new rules, which stipulate that students can stay for three years post-study only if they find ‘graduate-level jobs’ on salaries of £20,000 (US$30,600) or higher, have been blamed for a 23.5% overall decline in the number of Indian students who enrolled in UK higher education last year, according to official figures released last month by the Higher Education Statistics Authority (HESA) in the UK. 

Fewer than 30,000 students from India were studying at UK higher education institutions in 2011-12, compared to around 40,000 the previous year. The drop at postgraduate level was 28%.

“The change in visa rules is the primary reason for the fall in numbers. While students were interested, they were in two minds,” said Somnath Nandy, India country coordinator for Manchester Metropolitan University.

“With limited job opportunities in the UK, students were sceptical about investing a lot of money and not getting adequate returns,” he explained. Working after graduation helped Indian students pay off loans for expensive fees levied by UK universities on international students.

The UK’s high cost of living coupled with an unfavourable rupee exchange rate to the pound, meant students looked at cheaper options, including in AustraliaCanada, Singapore and Germany. 

Cameron speech

The main purpose of Cameron’s visit from 18-20 March was to attract business and investment to Britain and persuade India to open up its markets to British services.

But he included the vice-chancellors of the universities of Cambridge, Cardiff, Exeter, Southampton, Warwick and the London School of Economics in his entourage, along with David Willets, the universities and science minister. 

In a speech at a business event in Mumbai, the British prime minister said: “There is no limit to the number of Indian students who can come and study at British universities as long as they have a basic English qualification and a place at…one of those universities, and there’s no limit to the number that can stay and work in graduate employment.

“I think it’s a very clear, very straightforward offer to a new generation of extremely bright and talented Indian students to come to Britain,” he said.

But Cameron’s comments would not be enough to attract Indian students back to the UK, said Harmeet Pental, regional director for South Asia, North America and the UK at IDP Education India Pvt Ltd.

“Student numbers are directly dependent on government policy. I don’t think we had expected any announcements on policy change, since these have to be collectively taken by the UK government. But we had hoped for some positive signals,” he said.

Other countries more attractive

Universities have been warning the UK government that recent changes to student visa rules mean they face losing bright foreign students to rival institutions in the US, Canada and Australia.

Australia and Canada “definitely have an advantage at this time, with clearcut policies on post-study work for foreign students,” Pental said.

For Jeet Mishra, a final-year student at Ravenshaw University in Cuttack, southern India, Canada offers better study and work opportunities.

Recent changes in Canada’s immigration programme, called the ‘Canada Experience Class’, mean that foreign students who have completed at least a year of studies in the country and have 12 months of Canadian work experience will be eligible to apply for permanent residency.

“It is a huge draw and also a big advantage over other countries,” said Mishra.

The US is also considering a proposal to grant more green cards (residency permits) to international graduate students studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
In 2011-12, some 100,000 Indian students enrolled at US institutions, mostly for advanced degrees in engineering, science and mathematics.

Unrecognised masters degrees

Indian students may also be shunning one-year UK masters degrees, which are not regarded as equivalent to two-year masters degrees in India. Willets said he would meet with India’s Human Resource Development Ministry to discuss the problem.

But an expert panel set up by the ministry has advised the Indian government against accepting a British request to recognise the one-year masters as equivalent to the two-year masters degrees awarded by Indian institutions.

The panel suggested that Indian students with one-year masters from Britain must earn additional credits from an Indian university if their UK degrees are to be considered valid for higher studies or government jobs.

“The findings of the committee mean that we can only work in the private sector, which will recognise our degrees. This UK government will not allow us to work in their country and the Indian government will not allow us to work in our country. So our education and skills become useless,” said Neethu Kinara, one of several students who have petitioned the ministry.

The petition highlighted that Indian universities also offer one-year masters degrees, such as the master of library science and master of education, which are valid for higher studies and government employment.

It added that scholarships are offered in partnership with the Indian government for students to study in the UK for one-year masters degrees, despite the fact that such degrees are deemed unsuitable.

Ravi Lochan Singh, managing director of the education consultancy Global Reach, said students had a reason to feel cheated.

UK education is actively promoted by the British Council in India and several education fairs give their USP [unique selling point] as one-year masters. The phrase ‘globally recognised’ is used at the same time, even though the degrees are not recognised in India.” 

A joint statement issued by both countries during Cameron’s visit skimmed the surface of this contentious issue.

“The two leaders welcomed that Indian higher education regulators will actively explore the possibility of creating an enabling environment, by introducing the necessary bridging mechanism through which Indian nationals holding a masters degree from an accredited and recognised British university are able to pursue higher education or gain employment in India, after completing the necessary formalities of eligibility and equivalence,” the statement said.

6 Comments

  1. Very interesting blog Ravi. If we look comparatively at the five major countries attracting Indian students – namely; US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, UK has no less attractions but no Indian students likes if and buts in this commercial world. it is a large sum of money in Indian context which students are expected to invest on their education in any of these countries, so students would obviously prefer destinations which offer guaranteed work options such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand. UK’s current policy is damaging UK Institutions, and contradicting their claim that employment rate of their graduates is from 90 to 96%. i have no doubt on their claim as they are world class but UK Govt policy maker don’t seem to believe their own institutions.

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  2. Hi Ravi,
    thanks for all your efforts, I am still not clear what kind of bridging mechanism they have in mind because some super specialty courses like MSc in stem cell technology for which what Indian universities can offer a bridging course, being a new technological field Indian universities are lacking and not aware how to validate such degree by means of bridging mechanism.

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    1. For a bridging program to be useful, there is need for building in the system of RPL (Recognition of Prior Learning) and credits for programs done elsewhere. While common overseas, it is absent in the Indian system. It is not going to be easy to have a bridging course. What further baffles me is the number of scholarships that continue to be given by Government or other respectable bodies for students travelling overseas for Masters of less than two year duration. Infact there are news items about a number of scholarships by LSE for India for the Masters programs… Even when the Masters degrees of such duration continue to be “not a Masters”. On one hand we have institutes like IIPM which cannot run Masters degrees but still give an impression that they do and on the other hand we have institutions of repute that can offer a Masters but India continues to invalidate them…

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  3. Hi Ravi,

    My daughter had finished (2011) master in University of Nottingham in stem cell technology a newly developing field, currently working in Cambridge for last one year. There is an institution in Chennai run by a world leading cardiologist who is interested on her expertise and calling her for doing a PhD and will sponsor her to a government medical university in Chennai for their product development in stem cell.

    Her shocking experience is that she applied in Manipal university for 2013 one year mphil for a similar course has been told that she is not even eligible to get Mphil, Her idea is that it will be like bridging course for her to do PhD in India but no chance.

    Now her worry is that whether the Chennai institution sponsorship will be accepted by the govt university in Chennai or not, it is for 2013 July entry. Seems her UK degree is useless in India.

    She got a funded PhD in Ireland but I only have told her to do in India hence she did not take up, my thinking is that it is an emerging field and she will be of useful for our country in research development, but found no respect and welcome in India for her UK degree.

    I wonder, our prime minister and father of nation all studied in UK. Our prime minister’s UG and PG are from UK seems silent on this issue knowing many of our Indian student are in dark ,stress, money loss, jobless, not welcome in UK and in India, they also losing their precious timing of life due to the decision not taken by Govt whether it is valid or not.

    It still a surprise to me that lots of UK education fairs in five star hotels, bank loan etc are hiding the fact that these masters are having a problem of validation. In fact, I am in overseas for 2 decades not aware of such issues and shocking to me and making me sleepless that I had misdirected her for going to UK. This is a big mistake by our Govt not insisting UK universities and their agent to give awarenes to our student, we feel, got cheated.

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    1. If you read my first blog on this issue (of early last year), I have also aired that there is something wrong with the wide promotions of the degrees in India when the Indian Govt’s position is that they are not recognised as equal. Further I have issues with British Council sites from India calling the degrees “globally recognised” without even a hint that they are not so in India at all. The banks give loans and some of our journalists and politicians and industrialists also have the same qualification. All this is from the perspective of the affected student. The degrees in reality are of fairly good quality and it is largely an issue for India to acknowledge. Having said this, each of the countries have to work on rectification of the situation too. The world standard for Masters degrees is going to be 2 years duration and so the UK qualification may fall short at many ends.

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