Smith will play a key role in leading the UK sector’s efforts to offer a world-leading student experience and to communicate it internationally. This will include tackling barriers to education exports, and the need to offer an open and welcoming message to overseas students.

“We believe he can play a key role in emphasising to the government the need for action”

UK universities minister, Michelle Donelan, announced Smith’s appointment during British Council’s Going Global webinar, and said the international student community is “vital to the fabric of the UK”.

“We all feel so distanced in many ways right now but as a nation, we want our doors to remain open to international students,” Donelan told delegates.

President of Universities UK and vice-chancellor of Brunel University London, Julia Buckingham, described the appointment of Smith to international education champion as “fantastic news” for the sector.

“We believe he can play a key role in emphasising to the government the need for action,” she said.

“His understanding of and relationships with overseas markets will be critically important in helping to develop these strong international relationships, which are more important now than ever.”

To help develop these relationships, UUK said it is calling on the government to take action to ensure the visa system allows for flexible and blended approaches to teaching this autumn, which will be necessary in order to maintain social distancing and safety on campuses.

In a statement, it said the government must make clear to international students in the next few weeks that they can still have confidence in studying at UK universities, otherwise, the UK risks losing them to overseas competitors.

It noted that universities in the UK are starting to make announcements about what the return to university will look like in autumn 2020 and how they will be delivering teaching, student support services and social opportunities.

“We have a short window to convince undecided applicants that they can plan with confidence to study in the UK this autumn. This needs action by government as well as universities,” added Buckingham.

“Prospective students can be assured that the top priority for our universities is ensuring the health, safety and wellbeing of all students and staff in the new academic year. Now assurances must be given that new ways of learning will not penalise them now or in the future.”

UUK is asking government to:

  • Reassure applicants that online study will not disqualify students from the new graduate route to be introduced in 2021
  • Ensure students can start courses online with confidence by extending the visa application window from three months to six months
  • Extend rules allowing Tier 4 students to study partially online, to allow for the blended approach being planned by universities

UUK International’s document ‘Kickstarting the recovery for international student recruitment: what do we need from government?’ can be read in full here.

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