International enrolment
What's behind the fall in international enrolment numbers at top universities in the US, UK and elsewhere? Source: Shutterstock

As global headlines are dominated by the effects of changing immigration policies in the UK and US, one consequence has gone largely unnoticed: the decline in international student numbers.

The recent QS World University Rankings show that top universities have seen international enrolment figures drop significantly in response to new restrictions on student visas in the US, uncertainty over Brexit and the rights of EU citizens in the UK, as well as tuition fee hikes in both countries.

Complex bureaucracy impacts international enrolment

Asian families have long considered education to be a top priority with many sending their children abroad to study in countries such as Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom. One of the biggest draws of these countries is the possibility of getting a job there after graduation. But obtaining student visas can be especially difficult for citizens of some Asian – especially Southeast Asian – countries, and this can often be the stumbling block to a student wishing to pursue an education overseas, despite having gained admittance to their chosen university.

Even once they’ve made it to university, the unfortunate reality for most of these students is that they’re forced to leave their host country following completion of their Bachelor’s or Master’s programme, after living in that country for several years, with little opportunity to return.

This has led to more and more high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) pursuing solutions that allow their children to fulfil their academic aspirations without becoming entangled in risky or unpredictable visa application processes. An increasingly popular approach is acquiring alternative residence or citizenship rights that ensures access to some of the world’s best schools and universities.

While there’s no permanence with student visas, investment migration programmes allow students to study at a university with a residence visa, which can also be a pathway to citizenship after a required number of years of residence, giving them the ability to live and work in the country after graduation.

Uncertainty over Brexit and the rights of EU citizens have affected international student enrolment numbers in the UK. Source: AFP/Ben Stansall

International education is invaluable

Dominic Volek, Managing Partner and Southeast Head of investment migration firm Henley & Partners, says education is of vital importance for most clients. “For many wealthy investors, second citizenship or residence is invaluable in situations such as these. Many of our clients place high value in providing a top-class international education to their children — they know that it opens up various opportunities and provides their children with an edge in the corporate world, enabling them to establish an international network of contacts, while deepening their knowledge of a new country and culture, and even language.”

The UK Investor Immigration Programme is popular amongst investors looking to take advantage of the UK’s excellent education options. As noted by Knight Frank’s Global Wealth Report, although Australia, Canada and the US, among others, are attractive to overseas students, the UK’s private boarding schools are still seen as the gold standard by many. At tertiary level, Oxford and Cambridge University are currently ranked number one and two in the world by Times Higher Education, which provides a definitive list of the world’s best universities.

Of the universities in mainland Europe, revered institutions such as Humboldt University of Berlin, Sorbonne University in Paris, and the University of Amsterdam continue to draw wealthy international students, attracted by both the peerless quality of education on offer and the experience of student life in a European capital.

For investors wanting to give their children access to these kinds of opportunities, a key advantage of European universities is that fees for EU citizens are much lower than they are for non-EU citizens — some by up to 50 percent. For an investment of between EUR 1 million and EUR 2.15 million, Malta and Cyprus offer the most popular citizenship-by-investment programmes in the EU at present.

Across the Atlantic, the US EB-5 Immigrant Investor Programme is an attractive option for those who have their sights set on an American education. The programme requires a minimum investment of US$500,000 and funds must stay invested until permanent resident status is granted (usually four years). The Australia Significant Investor Visa Programme is another potential avenue to pursue. Overall, the country is renowned for its education system — one of many reasons Australia remains the top destination of choice for HNWIs looking to resettle.

Volek comments, “The benefits of pursuing an education abroad with a residence visa/permit (as opposed to a student visa) are clear. Given the length of such programmes, students stand to graduate not only with a degree, but also a second citizenship or permanent residence. This affords them the certainty and flexibility to remain in the country and gain valuable experience and skills that they wouldn’t otherwise, and without needing to rely on employer visa sponsorships.”

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