Leicester Professor's evidence informs Parliamentary Select Committee report

Posted by ap507 at Apr 15, 2014 09:58 AM |
Helen Atkinson of our Department of Engineering emphasises importance of revising visa regulations for international students

Professor Helen Atkinson FREng (pictured), who was made CBE in the New Year’s Honours for services to Engineering and Education, is featured prominently in a new report from the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee’s inquiry into international STEM students.

Professor Atkinson, who is Head of Engineering at Leicester, appeared before the Science and Technology Select Committee to present on the challenges facing International STEM students.

She worked with Suzanne Alexander, Head of the International Office at Leicester, on her evidence and much of it is incorporated in the final report - particularly the issues she raised concerning the challenges faced by Indian students.

The Royal Academy of Engineering and the Engineering Professors’ Council both presented strong evidence to the Committee that Engineering Departments throughout UK higher education are potentially being undermined by the changes and instabilities in visa regulations since 2011, and that these issues have led to a significant drop in postgraduate-taught students coming to the UK to study for Engineering MSc degrees.

Professor Atkinson noted that falling international student numbers on postgraduate taught courses will naturally have a negative effect on the financial situation of university departments.

She said: "The image that is being projected by the UK out into this very competitive international market place is one of a lack of welcome, but also of a series of changing rules.

"We can track fairly precisely an adverse effect from the removal of the post-study work for two years, which has affected Indian students in particular. The reason for that, and the reason why it particularly affects postgraduates, is that doing an MSc is a 'discretionary purchase'. They are doing MScs really for career advancement and for their personal and professional development.

"Generally in India it is a family decision, and they take out a loan, which is secured against the house, the family home. When they come to the UK, when the two years post-study work route actually existed, it enabled them to repay at least part of the loan via some work in the UK. This is no longer the case.

"There is a strong view across the sector, particularly from those who are at the coalface of international recruitment, that changing regulations are why the removal of post-study work has had a big effect on postgraduate taught recruitment rather than the undergraduate cohort."

Professor Atkinson noted that the undergraduate students had not been affected to the same extent because students were generally sponsored by their Governments or might come from more prosperous families.

Nevertheless, there has been a significant drop in postgraduate taught students coming to the UK to study for Engineering MSc since the major changes in visas in 2011. These changes have hit Engineering Departments disproportionately because Engineering is the second highest recruiter of overseas students apart from Business. This is particularly worrying at a time when UK Plc needs flourishing Engineering Departments in UK universities so that it can meet the needs for skills to enable growth.

The Lords Science and Technology Committee launched its inquiry into International STEM students on January 16. The inquiry aims to find out how the Coalition Government’s immigration rules may be having an impact on international students.

Professor Atkinson was elected the first woman President of the Engineering Professors’ Council in its fifty year history, the body which represents engineering in higher education throughout the UK. She is Head of the Department of Engineering at the University of Leicester and a Vice President and trustee of the Royal Academy of Engineering where she chairs the Standing Committee on Education and Training.