While restrictions to its post-study work visa are likely to reduce the total number of Sri Lankan students studying in the UK, the quality of Sri Lankan graduates coming out will remain, and even in some cases increase, writes David Gee, Global Careers Consultant at the University of the West of England, UK.
The popularity of the UK as a destination for Sri Lankan students was clear till very recently with numbers doubling between 1999 and 2009. Indeed, with just under 20,000 submissions at the most recent intake, the UK had upstaged the US as the most favoured destination.
Recent government tightening of the Post-Study Work Visa is likely to mean a fall in these numbers with international graduates being required to secure jobs with a minimum wage requirement (predicted to be around £20,000) in order to stay in the UK. However, in some ways this might sort the ‘wheat from the chaff’ so to speak, with prospective students having to weigh up their employability and only the strongest applying to the UK. At the same time, while the competition for jobs may change, the advantages offered by a UK-educated Sri Lankan graduate will remain and in terms of employability even become enhanced.
The Strengths of UK-Graduates
The UK has a tradition of academic excellence spanning 800 years. It has a number of genuinely
world-class universities, and UK qualifications are recognised globally. In terms of employability a study of 43 multinational companies by the UK Council for Industry and Higher Education (CIHE) revealed that the UK develops some of the best graduates and research in the world, with higher education lying at the heart of its competitive advantage.
A key to the edge that UK graduates offer lies in the system of their higher education. Most businesses in the CIHE survey saw the UK approach to learning as encouraging a spirit of enquiry, problem-solving, and lateral thinking, all of which are qualities they looked for in their high-fliers. This fostering of autonomous thinking and creativity is at stark contrast to the rote learning and regurgitation standard to many other countries’ higher education.
UK universities are at the cutting edge of technology, providing students with direct access to state-of-the-art facilities. Class sizes are restricted to ensure that students have access to equipment and have enough time to interact meaningfully with lecturers and other students; and since all classes are obviously in English, students are compelled to develop the international business language.
In some ways however the key to UK graduates’ strength is based on what happens beyond the lecture theatre. Employability currently sits right at the top of the UK government’s agenda for Higher Education.
The vocational context is at the heart of the UK university curricula and placement, internship and business-based project opportunities abound. Such opportunities can lead to the development of valuable European contacts as well as that all important practical experience. Further, UK student visas entitle Sri Lankan students to work up to twenty hours outside of their studies during term time meaning plenty of scope for gaining further commercial experience, and UK universities actively help students to fill this time with experience related to their career aspirations.