Though for decades Indian students dreamt of building a life in the United States, the United Kingdom’s increasing popularity in the past few years has been significant as thousands have started considering the country as a viable option. Over 160,000 Indian students received study visas to the UK in the year ending September 2022, which is a 78% increase compared to 2021 when more than 90,000 study visas were issued. But various media reports by British media outlets have suggested that the new UK visa policy may cut overseas students' stay period to 6 months from two years if they can't find a job, while also prioritising international students enrolled in elite institutions in the country. The Free Press Journal talked to Dr. Malcolm Butler, Vice -President and Director of Global Engagement, University of Sheffield, one of the topmost Russell Group Universities, who addressed concerns surrounding the curbs, UCU strikes, accommodation, programmes, and more. : Excerpts of the interview:
How many Indian students study at University of Sheffield?
We have a long history of welcoming Indian students to study at the University of Sheffield. We currently have over 800 Indian students studying on campus and look forward to welcoming more in September. I was fortunate enough to meet over 100 Indian offer holders recently during my trip to India and hopefully my words – and those of our enthusiastic alumni – will inspire them to join our University later this year! The University of Sheffield is a very diverse and welcoming community - we have over 30,000 students from more than 150 countries.
What are the popular programmes among students from India?
Traditionally our business and engineering courses have proven popular with Indian students. Our Faculty of Engineering is one of the biggest providers of engineering education and research in the UK, with specialisms in Computer Science, Aerospace Engineering, Bioengineering, and many more.
We are seeing growing interest in Biosciences - in particular Biomedical Sciences, Molecular Biology, Biotechnology, and Genetics. The offers placement opportunities for genetics students to work on projects that are helping reduce cancer backlogs, improving patient outcomes, and leading to lives being saved, locally and nationally.
Our postgraduate course has also seen a surge in demand. Taught by our Information School, which is ranked number one in the world for library and information management in the QS World University Subject Rankings 2023, this course explores data science and the role of data in solving complex organisational and societal problems.
Is the University planning to explore new fields of academics?
We pride ourselves on world-class partnerships with outstanding institutions. We see working in a partnership as a two-way process that offers the mutual benefits of enhancing global experiences for all students and staff involved. Our vision is to continue to work closely with international partners to help us understand the world and make it better.
I met with several research and educational organisations when I was in Delhi and Mumbai recently to discuss and explore ways that we can work together to support research projects, student and staff exchanges and to support one another through sharing knowledge. These included IIT Delhi, IIT Bombay, and Tata Institute for Social Sciences. I have come back to the UK with lots of great ideas and look forward to seeing these realised in the future.
Is the University considering India or South Asia-specific programmes?
Our programmes consider global issues and enable our graduates to pursue careers worldwide. We are currently exploring new opportunities including the potential for transnational education (TNE).
How can Indian students avail scholarships?
We offer generous scholarships to students with excellent academic results and potential. This includes a 50% scholarship for undergraduates – which is available for each year of their undergraduate degree – and 25% for postgraduate-taught students. We’re also pleased to offer a scholarship specifically for those studying at Delhi Public School Society (DPS) institutions. Our scholarships are competitive but we continue to see high-quality applications from Indian students year on year.
How is the University helping Indian, international students get work opportunities?
We provide support to students wanting to take advantage of the Graduate Immigration Route visa, as well as providing opportunities during their studies.
Our Careers Service supports students with one-to-one advice, workshops, and networking opportunities, as well as promoting part-time work, placement, and graduate opportunities.
We see the drive and passion that Indian students bring to their studies and their enthusiasm to take advantage of the opportunities available to them to further enhance their employability and career prospects. In the past three years, 750 students from the Faculty of Engineering have undertaken a year in industry as part of their programme - spending a year in a graduate-level role in an engineering company. For non-Engineering students, there are similar opportunities to gain experience through placement years and summer internships.
How has the University been dealing with accommodation crisis in UK?
Unlike at many other universities, we are pleased to guarantee a room in University accommodation to all new students, as long as they meet a few simple conditions. We understand how important it is for students to know that they will have somewhere safe to live, close to campus. There is lots of choice for students studying in Sheffield, with accommodation available from the University and plenty of options in the private sector. Living in University accommodation is a great way to settle into life as a student at the University of Sheffield and students also benefit from on-site welfare support and a range of events and activities.
Will UCU strikes have a possible impact on graduation or degree results?
We understand that strike action may cause uncertainty for students, however, most of our students are unlikely to be significantly affected by it. We will do everything we can to help support students, including taking steps to ensure that assessments, marking, and graduation can proceed as planned. There are national negotiations currently taking place to try to resolve the issues raised by UCU.
How would you address concerns around possible cutbacks on post-study work visas?
It’s been ten years since we launched the #WeAreInternational campaign and we are still as passionate about celebrating and championing the impact that international students have on their university and more broadly. We continue to work with colleagues from the sector to champion and highlight the significant contribution that international students make to the UK’s economy, our local community, and cultural vibrancy. Colleagues at both the Russell Group and Universities UK have also challenged the potential plans announced by the government and we’ll continue to work with these groups to lobby in this area. Many areas of the UK government already recognise the importance of the graduate immigration route visa and are supporting our efforts to ensure no negative changes are made.
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