During a trip to India, a delegation of the prestigious King’s College, London, comprising president and principal Edward Byrne AC, vice-principal (international) Joanna Newman and former U.K. minister of science and universities and visiting professor with the Policy Institute at King’s College, London, David Willetts, acknowledged that while there has been a fall in the number of international students, the number of Indians at King’s College London has remained unaffected.
In this interview, they express the hope that the perception about the new visa norms would change.
This is Prof. Byrne’s first visit to India after taking charge at the King’s College, London. How significant was this trip?
Byrne: It is crucial for us to establish partnerships in India. We are putting together a team that is very focused on the country. I want to strengthen science collaborations in Bengaluru and visited the Indian Institute of Science. One of our professors has a busy and productive laboratory there now and that’s going to be a strong collaboration.
We also had some discussions with Unilever. In New Delhi, we are having discussions with two major private universities to complement the established relations we have with the Delhi University and Jawaharlal Nehru University. We have good collaborations with our law school.
Newman: Another aim of our visit is to create research collaboration opportunities so that our students (from U.K.) can spend time at Indian institutes.
Indians are the third largest international student body at King’s College. What makes the college so popular among Indians?
Byrne: We have long standing ties with India in a number of disciplines and a long history of Indian students going to King’s. There are several successful Indian alumni whs have mentored students on their return to India. While there has been a fall in the number of Indian students coming to the U.K., King’s has not been affected. I believe that for students coming for education, rather than migration — which a great majority do come for — the attraction of the U.K. will be re-established and our numbers will be restored because the intellectual and cultural ties between both the countries are strong. They (Indian universities) are quite aligned to our university systems and are very complimentary.
Newman: Our alumni go back many years, including two famous Indians — Sarojini Naidu and Khushwant Singh. So there’s a long tradition of Indians coming to King’s.
Willetts: The college has an incredible range of disciplines. And with King’s, you get to study at the heart of London which appeals to Indians.
Which courses do Indian students mostly opt for?
Byrne: The law school has been a favourite because of our focus on international law and the medical school has been attracting Indians over the years. The student strength in our social sciences department is huge. We have a major war studies department which deals with prevention of war and conflict resolution and has been attracting Indian students. Since the India Institute was established at the King’s, it has been attracting more Indians.
(The India Institute, launched in 2012, offers interdisciplinary studies pertaining to contemporary India. Currently, there are more than 30 students in the PhD programmes and students hail from countries like Turkey, Brazil, Malaysia, Mexico, France and the U.S., other than India.)
Newman: While Indian students would traditionally opt for law and medicine, we now see an increasing number of Indian students interested in the humanities. Despite the dip in the number of Indian students coming to the U.K. because of some misinformation around the visa issue, the numbers of Indian students at King’s has been steady.
Earlier, the post-study work visa allowed non-European Union students up to two years to hunt for jobs after completion of their course. This was scrapped in 2012 and the time was reduced to three-four months, giving students very little time to look for employment. This new norm has made many students apprehensive about going to the U.K. What is your take on that?
Byrne: I share the concern and the need to constantly work to improve the post-study visa conditions. It’s not that there’s no post-study right to work; students have a little time to find jobs pertaining to their discipline in about three to four months. The idea is to find work suitable for university graduates. The government has chosen to define that with a financial threshold of around 20,000 pounds. I would personally like the threshold of the post-study work visa revised.
Willetts: Indian students are welcome to the U.K. King’s, which, in particular, is very committed to student care and support… and that includes helping them find jobs. Because King’s is in central London, where salaries are very high, you are more likely to find a job than if you are studying in a country where the surrounding wages are much low. London’s job market and salaries are so competitive that very good prospects are available in three-four months.
Newman: The way it has been reported has given the impression that there is a pressure on the students. This is not true.
International students studying in the U.K. were allowed to vote in the general elections in May. Do you think this helps in making them feel included and valued individuals?
Byrne: International students make an important contribution in shaping the British society, culture and a strong economy, something which is recognised by offering them the right to vote in British general elections and have their say on all sort of issues which affect them. We hope that this plays a part in making them feel welcome in our country.
U.K. is considered an expensive country for studies. Do you think the high tuition fees is a deterrent for middle class families?
Byrne: Coming to the U.K. as an international student is a big financial commitment, and before students start on a programme of study, they need to consider financial expenses carefully. London, like any major global city, can be expensive. But we believe graduating with a King’s degree and an international outlook can expand a student’s employment opportunities and earning potential, whether in the U.K. or at home. Students also benefit from all the cultural and social activities available in one of the most vibrant cities in the world. King’s offers some financial support for international undergraduate and postgraduate students. More information can be found on our website www.kcl.ac.uk or by contacting the Student Funding Office. Prospective students should also contact their local British Council office.