Jillian Thomas: Why it is so vital to keep the best students in Sheffield

A student looks at matter under a microscope
A student looks at matter under a microscope
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Last week I was invited by the University of Sheffield Management School to be interviewed by a student from Taiwan, who had worked as a financial planner in her homeland for ten years. A highly intelligent, fluent English speaker, she was an amazing young lady, a long way from home, keen to understand how a developed financial services sector works.

What started as a conversation with one student and her tutor rapidly extended to include many students listening in, showing a thirst to understand, to expand their knowledge.

You cannot fail to be inspir-ed when walking into the management building; looking around it is like the United Nations, students from every corner of the world joining together to better their education-al and employment prospects.

But listening and talking to tutors and students, the issues with foreign students with regards to their visa/Brexit, and staying in the country as employees post-graduation has become much more difficult. In reality, not so much Brexit but the removal of the post-study work visa has become very detrimental.

This system allowed international post-graduate students to stay in the UK for two years after graduating, with the potential of adding significant value to the UK economy by applying their professional skills here. When this opening was removed, UK universities certainly took a hit on international student numbers. Talking to the students last week, these are certainly the calibre of people the UK needs.

The Management School works with real companies whilst they are here, and at the end of their teaching students can work at a company for four months as their final project. This is free to the company and previously many international students were recruited as a result of this project.

Perhaps Brexit will help if it recognises immigration from other countries outside the EU as equally impor-tant. Perhaps in a post Brexit environment we will ensure these brains are a vital part of ensuring the UK remains at the forefront of technology and commerce.

Sitting with these students, I realised they are no threat to the UK. The bigger picture is that UK higher education is a big export business and adds greatly to the balance of payment.

The Management School at the University of Sheffield brings in annually over £1m in tuition fees and probably just as much again in what students spend during their time in Sheffield. There is a need to embrace and harness the future GDP that these able students can provide to the UK.

Personally, I found being invited into the university daunting and questioning why I had been invited – I am dyslexic and most of my education was interrupted by ill-health meaning that I needed to catch up whist in employment and enrol for further education, studying at night.

But I think I did okay and may even be invited back as the tutor wrote a nice email to me! The following day I received an amazing response from the student, telling me: “You have really inspired me, and shown me a different aspect of my disser-tation. Although I was aware that the world had changed because of the internet, I hadn’t really given much thought to how it had influenced the investment sector.”

She added: “I think a perfect example of this is the one you mentioned about how social media, such as Twitter, influence stock prices.”

All of us have the ability to mentor and help the future business leaders. I have, and given the chance, most certainly will again! Particularly when I think that in the UK the average age of a financial planner is 57, with about five per cent being female. Last week was an important reminder to me, that we need to invest in our younger people to ensure the continuity of advice being available.