Using PR and Social Media to Defend Student Visas

Background

Study Group is the leading supplier of international students to Britain’s Higher Education sector. The company provides on- and off-campus preparation courses for international students each year to ensure academic success and entry into UK universities.

The Issue

International students contribute around £10bn a year to the UK economy in tuition fees and living costs. 46% of those admitted to UK universities come through sub-degree preparation courses.

In December 2010 the Immigration Minister, Damian Green MP,  announced a public consultation on proposed changes to the student visa system designed to reduce the number of students coming to study at below degree level, including introducing a tougher language requirement. Study Group needed to ensure the government understood the impact this would have on the economy.

The Process

TopLine helped Study Group create a comprehensive factsheet containing data on the international education sector, using figures obtained through a Freedom of information request to the UKBA. The factsheet became an indispensible resource for the media. Study Group also financed a press conference which brought all stakeholders in the industry together for the first time in history, to present a united front in condemning to the proposals.

The panel included

  • Dominic Scott, Chief Executive, UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA)
  • Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive, Universities UK
  • Aaron Porter, President, National Union of Students (NUS)
  • Tony Millns, Chief Executive, English UK
  • Professor Edward Acton, VC, University of East Anglia
  • Sue Hindley, Chairman, Study UK


Measurement and Evaluation

  • 76 pieces of coverage, including the FT, BBC, Guardian and the Times Higher Education.
  • Over 2,000 views of the YouTube video of the press conference Results
  • Two days after the press conference, Damian Green said that he would take the sector’s views into consideration.
  • The Home Affairs Select Committee visited Study Group’s flagship UK college to meet international students who would not have been able to study in the UK under the new proposals. Two pieces condemning the proposals appeared in the FT that day.


Results

When the Home Secretary, Theresa May MP, announced the outcome of the consultation on the 21 March 2011, a number of the grounds for objection had been taken into consideration, including those against increasing the English language requirements for foreign students looking to acquire visas to study at UK pathway colleges.

James Pitman, Study Group Managing Director HE, UK and Europe commented: “TopLine Communications went to great lengths to understand this very complex issue and ensure that both sides of the story were heard. They made sure we responded with consistent messaging every time the issue was raised in the media and by the time the consultation was announced in late 2010, journalists were approaching us for our opinion as we were viewed as thought leaders on the issue. The press conference was timed to perfection."

“We really felt TopLine had Study Group’s, and the sector’s best interests at heart throughout the process and they played a major role in securing the immediate future of the UK’s second biggest export sector.”
 

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