The UK government’s announcement of a new work visa option aimed at attracting top graduates has drawn backlash as the list of eligible institutions does not include any universities in Africa, Latin America or South Asia. South. Nontobeko Mtshali of The Conversation Africa asked Orla Quinlan, Director of Internationalization at Rhodes University in South Africa, to share her thoughts on the implications of these visa programs for international integration and cross-cultural efforts in Higher Education.


What has the British government announced?

The UK government recently introduced a new short-term High Potential Individual work visa. Home Secretary Priti Patel said the intention was to prioritize “ability and talent” – not where people are coming from.

The terms of the High Potential Individual Visa allow for a two or three year stay in the UK for graduates with an MSc or PhD, respectively. This visa cannot be extended, but holders can apply for longer term visas.

Applicants must have financial resources to obtain the visa and support themselves while seeking employment. The High Potential Individual visa does not apply to international students already enrolled in UK universities.

But the visa is restricted to graduates of specific universities in the top 50 places of two international university rankings.

Who is eligible?

The most recent list of eligible universities included more than two dozen US universities. Other institutions are in Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, Singapore and Sweden.

Each of these universities appeared in at least two of the following ranking systems: the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, the Academic Ranking of World Universities, and the Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings.

African universities do not appear in the top 50 of any of these ranking systems. The criteria they use consider aspects such as the university’s research output, high-performing scholars and alumni, reputation with employers, and international student ratio.

The performance of each student is not a criterion in any of these rankings.

Filing systems are business entities. Although deeply flawed, they are playing an increasing role in shaping opinions about the quality of higher education institutions. But many universities that do not appear in the rankings of graduate students who excel in their individual performance. Ranking systems are already heavily contested. Correlating only high performing individuals with specific universities is unscientific. Rankings have little to do with individual performance.

If a ranking system is to be used, it has been suggested that the impact rankings produced by Times Higher Education may be more appropriate. This measures the impact of universities on the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. At least this ranking is more inclusive of global universities in the South.

What does this tell us about inequalities in higher education?

Attending the top-ranked eligible institutions requires the means to pay fees, accommodation, and living expenses. For example, almost all of the US institutions on the list are private colleges that charge high fees. Many high-achieving students from the Global South cannot afford to attend. Many brilliant students will therefore never be able to access the high potential individual visa.

Universities in Latin America, Africa, and most countries in Asia are not on the list of eligible universities. It is not even possible for many universities to meet the specific criteria chosen. This exclusion sends a negative message.

The High Potential Individual Visa shows myopia about the experience, knowledge and skills that graduates from the South could bring to the UK. Many people show high achievement scores, despite operating in underfunded universities. This is due to their resilience and courage – the best predictor of success, according to studies by American researcher Angel Lee Duckworth.

Should anything change?

Countries have the right to make their own decisions. But some countries are making short-term populist decisions, rather than longer-term strategic decisions for the benefit of their own citizens and the world.

The world needs to build relationships for future global collaboration. We need to create, share and spread knowledge – a key lesson from the COVID-19 pandemic. The mobility of higher education students must continue. These mobile students need prospects in the countries where they study, as an option, to circulate the global talent pool.

Priti Patel’s claim that this visa “prioritizes ability and talent – not where someone is from” doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. The UK offers an elite visa to affluent graduates of elite institutions to come and stay temporarily in the UK for two to three years.

UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak’s call for students to “take advantage of this incredible opportunity to build their careers here” is unrealistic. A visa of this duration is simply not long enough to really build a career beyond a first experience.

Anyone who has just arrived in a new country still needs to acclimatize to the culture, find a job, and develop relationships before they can start contributing.

What are the implications for higher education?

The High Potential Individual visa will not particularly affect student mobility to and from higher education sectors in Africa as it is a work visa and not a study visa. But it is a disturbing manifestation of a shifting value system that is increasingly exclusive, elitist and undermines diversity.

Higher education in Africa is fully aware of its local challenges. These include the impact of structural social and economic inequalities, environmental degradation and climate change in African countries. We know that we cannot have global peace and security if we do not improve education and job opportunities for all. This is why African universities care about relevant higher education and solving real problems by connecting our research, teaching and learning and community engagement and sharing our knowledge with the world.

Orla QuinlanDirector of Internationalization, University of Rhodes.

This article is republished from The conversation under Creative Commons license. Read the original article.