Ukrainian students will be relieved this week after the Home Office confirmed they will not have to return home if their visas run out.
An official told FE Week that government concessions mean Ukrainian students will have their visas temporarily extended, or will be able to switch on to different visa routes in light of the invasion by Russia.
However, Mike Hopkins, principal of South and City College Birmingham, whose college has five Ukrainian students, said students would need support with the process.
“Very often [visas] extend to the end of the calendar year. What we would be doing, if that is the case, is talking with the students and where necessary working with them and the Home Office, or any other service, to make sure that they are supported.”
The exact number of Ukrainian students in UK FE is currently unclear. FE Week requested data from the Home Office and the Department for Education, but both refused to share it.
Data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency showed that there were 870 Ukrainian students at UK HE institutions in the 2020/21 academic year.
In the year ending September 2021, government data shows that most sponsored study visas were for higher education (91 per cent). By comparison, the number of visas for FE was three per cent.
Government guidance says that if a student is 18 or over and their course is at degree level, they can usually stay in the UK for up to five years. If it’s below degree level, they can usually stay in the UK for up to two years
Financial support is needed
Hopkins told FE Week that in cases where students have extended their stays, they may come under additional financial pressure.
“The other thing is that they have to have a certain amount of resources to pay for their stay etc, which comes either from themselves or their family,” he said
“That is the other thing we’ll need to follow up on. As if they don’t have that, what we would then do, because it is an exceptional circumstance – and we’ve had this in a previous conflict – we would go back [to government] and ask, ‘What support is there for these students?’
“I suspect at the moment, there is likely to be a level of support… Although I don’t think the government has quite got its act together yet, but I think it probably will do, certainly in the short term anyway.”
The DfE confirmed to FE Week that Ukrainian students who extend their study visas in the UK will be able to access several sources of funding.
They said that institutions have an allocation from the 16-to-19 bursary fund to help disadvantaged people in that age range with costs, such as travel, books, equipment and trips.
The adult education budget funds colleges and providers to help adult learners to overcome barriers that prevent them from taking part in learning, including learner support to support learners aged 19 and over with a specific financial hardship.
The DfE also said that providers have discretion to help learners meet costs such as transport, accommodation, books, equipment and childcare.
A spokesperson added that in areas where the AEB is devolved, mayoral combined authorities and the Greater London Authority are responsible for their learner support policies.
Colleges step up to support students
Several colleges have confirmed to FE Week that they have Ukrainian nationals studying with them and spoke about the ways they are trying to support these students.
A spokesperson for Luminate Education Group, a group that runs colleges based in the Leeds City Region, said that they currently have 13 Ukrainian students.
“In terms of support, our students’ union has started a campaign called Us Against War. The aim of the campaign is to show solidarity among our college community against war,” a spokesperson said.
“Next Tuesday the student union will be fundraising for UNICEF, with several activities planned, such as selling iced coffee at Harrogate College. There are still ongoing plans to make the fundraising activities available across all our colleges.”
The spokesperson said that members of staff have put some of the Ukrainian students in touch with each other – especially those who are being taught online.
In terms of hardship funds, the spokesperson said that discussions are taking place around how to support students, but nothing has yet been confirmed.
Bath College confirmed to FE Week that they had fewer than ten Ukrainian students and that they were being supported by their student welfare team and being offered “coping mechanisms”.
“We are lucky enough to have a very diverse student body at Bath College, and have reached out to our Ukrainian and Russian international foundation year learners, who are young people living far from their home and families, to offer additional support,” the spokesperson for the college said.
We are currently identifying any other learners who may be impacted by the current crisis and will also reach out to them.”
NCG also told FE Week that they have identified a small number of Ukrainian students across their group, all of whom are under 18.
“Our colleges are working locally to ensure they’re supported,” a spokesperson said.