South African academics push back against ‘biased’ UK visa scheme

Academics have criticised a new visa scheme introduced by the United Kingdom which will offer work visas to people who have studied at the world’s top universities.

Under the scheme announced on Monday (30 May), successful applicants will be given a two-year work visa (three-year for those with a PhD) and will be permitted to move into other long-term employment routes.

The list of eligible universities is based on a global universities list 2021, and includes colleges in the US, Sweden, Japan, Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore, France, Germany, Australia and China.

Notably, not a single South African or African university features on the top 100 list, raising concerns around fairness and diversity.

“The University of Cape Town, Wits University and Stellenbosch University are the top-rated institutions in Africa, according to the Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings data, with Cape Town ranked 183rd and Wits and Stellenbosch University ranked between 251-300.”

Irina Filatova, an emeritus professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, told CNN that the ranking system was skewed in favour of English language and technological universities.

“It is good that universities compete, but the problem is that the system of ranking is skewed in favour of English language and technological universities. If you look at the top universities, they are the best in technology,” Filatova said.

“To exclude an entire continent brimming over with the enormous creative and intellectual energies of its youth on the basis of its absence from arbitrary, culturally biased, abuse-prone university rankings is shortsighted. Several unranked African universities have produced, and continue to produce, some of the brightest minds in the world,” said Professor Farooq Kperogi of the Kennesaw State University in Georgia.

The UK’s chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak said that the new visa offer means that the UK can continue to attract the best and brightest from across the globe.

“The route means that the UK will grow as a leading international hub for innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship. We want the businesses of tomorrow to be built here today – which is why I call on students to take advantage of this incredible opportunity to forge their careers here.”

The new High Potential Individual route is intended to attract those at the early stages of their careers, who demonstrate exceptional promise, providing a highly desirable and able pool of mobile talent from which UK employers can recruit, the government said.

The visa, the government said, forms part of a series of changes to the immigration system after leaving the EU to restore control over the country’s borders, “so that the UK can welcome people based on the skills they have to offer and the contribution they can make, not where they come from”.


Read: The UK will now offer you a visa if you’ve studied at these top universities

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South African academics push back against ‘biased’ UK visa scheme