The UK Border Agency has closed down an estimated 500 so called “bogus” colleges in just 18 months, leaving thousands of overseas students stranded, broke and wondering what on earth they have done to deserve this sort of treatment.
If each of those 500 colleges had just 200 students paying fees of around £5000 per head, that means 100,000 innocent students could have lost up to £500 million in fees when the colleges went out of business.
Furthermore, Britain loses £500,000,000 of fees the following year, the year after that and for all the subsequent years the colleges would have been trading. Then there’s the cost of thousands of staff losing jobs at a time when the country needs to get people back into work to come out of recession.
The loss of VAT alone amounts to £100 million a year, which could have gone towards paying off Labour’s trillion pound national debt, currently costing the taxpayer millions a day in interest payments.
Perhaps we should ask the Home Office, while they pat themselves on the back, who is going to replace the lost tax revenues?
Despite the news, the university sector is insisting that for “genuine and legitimate students”, Britain is still an attractive place to study.
Is that strictly correct? A private college owner who spoke to Immigration Matters today claims that up to 80% of student visas are being refused in 5 countries: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nigeria.
He complained that if their ‘refusal rate’ goes above 20% (something over which they have no control) they could lose their Highly Trusted Status (HTS).
Recently, one of his Pakistani candidates was refused a Tier 4 student visa, following a short interview behind plate glass, on the basis that the Entry Clearance Officer (ECO) was “not satisfied” that his English was good enough to complete the course.
The same student has an IELTS certificate with an overall band pass mark of 6.5, which is above the level required for most degree level courses and to satisfy visa requirements!
The right of appeal against a student visa refusal was removed when the points based system was introduced in 2009 because, the Home Office stated, decisions on student visas were going to be made on the basis of a points score and not on the subjective views of ECO’s.
Chinese students still make up the largest number of overseas students in Britain. India, which has seen large numbers of students shun British colleges and universities, has the second highest number of non-EU students in the UK.
Universities UK President of and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol, Professor Eric Thomas, acknowledged that a large number of colleges had been closed down over the last year and a half but highlighted that there is no cap (as there is for Tier 2 working visas) on the numbers of international Tier 4 students coming to the country.
“The UK Border Agency has closed 500 colleges in the UK within the last 18 months. They have ceased to trade,” Thomas said.
However, he said that “despite some recent high-profile negative coverage of the UK’s student visa system, the reality is that the UK welcomes genuine international students”.
He added that international students make a fundamental contribution to university life and international demand for places remains strong. Besides, plenty of post-study work opportunities also continue to exist, he claimed.
But many students from countries like India see a different reality to Professor Thomas. Last month, the UK Border Agency revoked the government owned London Metropolitan University’s (LMU) Tier 4 licence to sponsor non-EU students, a decision that affected thousands of students including a large number of Indians.
Students are still reeling from the draconian decision, which has been challenged in the High Court and, like many private college suspensions, is the subject of a judicial review.
Joanna Newman, Director of the UK Higher Education International Unit (IU) reports that there was a decrease in the number of students registered to study in the UK following a number of damaging newspaper reports. She said that “abuse is less than 2 per cent and it is incumbent on the Universities to verify the genuineness of students”.
“There were as many as 39,090 Indian students in 2010/11 as against 67,325 Chinese students. We have close relations with the Indian Government. We are not only working with the Indian Government but collaborating with various Universities,” she said.
Critics would argue that it’s not the Indian Government she needs to be “working with”. Try the UK Border Agency!
She added that there has been a number of changes to the system but “legitimate students” can still get a student visa if they meet the UK Border Agency’s requirements.
“Post-study work is still an option for international students once they graduate, through a new category. No further changes to the UK immigration system are planned,” she said.
Well, not this month at least. In any case, the damage has been done.
Not sure which planet these two commentators are living on? The Post Study Work Visa was abolished this year and the “new category” is simply a part of the Tier 2 working visa structure which involves finding a suitable sponsoring employer.
In spite of the UK Border Agency’s clampdowns on colleges and harsh changes to the Tier 4 student visa rules, the UK has for the moment managed to hang on to its position as a leading study destination, second only to the USA.
The top universities are still ranked among the world’s leading research institutions, as measured by total publications and citations.
Yesterday, the Higher Education Commission called for an urgent policy review on postgraduate students, which they say are the key to Britain’s continued success in an increasingly competitive, globalised world.
Policymakers are creating an environment of slow growth in UK jobs, closure of post study work visa (PSW) and clampdowns on international students and colleges, which is forcing postgraduates to take their skills to countries like Canada and Australia.
The Russell Group, which represents elite universities has warned that tougher visa rules are already leading to a drop in international applicants.
Universities will see a drop in in-country applicants fed through from private colleges.
It should be noted that just because a college closes down, it does not necessarily follow that it is ‘bogus’. Like any other business, colleges close for a variety of reasons, most of which are financial.
Private colleges have struggled to recruit students following discriminatory changes to the Immigration Rules last year banning all work and family dependants for their students.
Some Tier 4 college owners have simply given up trying to jump through yet more hoops and meet ever higher requirements, a process which government owned universities have not had to go through. A number are voting with their feet and wallets by setting up colleges in other countries which welcome their investment.
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If you need any immigration advice or are worried about the new immigration rules or need help with Sponsorship or Tier 2, Tier 4, applying for university if your college has closed down, Visa, ILR, Settlement, Citizenship, Dependant Visa or an appeal against a UK Border Agency or British Embassy refusal, or if you have been waiting for a reply from the Home Office for longer than a year, please email:
Majestic College offer special packages for EU students for UK work study programmes. They also have a number of employers looking for staff right now and are willing to employ Bulgarians and Romanians.
It doesn’t matter where you come from – UK, Europe or anywhere else in the world, it is important to ensure that your qualifications are recognised. In the UK there is a national agency that carries out this service, they are called UK NARIC.