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Geoffrey Alderman writing for the Guardian says high fees plus the prohibition of any part-time working by international students at private colleges have ensured the dramatic contraction of the multi-billion pound industry.

A year ago the UK Border Agency (UKBA) implemented a radical reform of student visas and procedures for licensing colleges of further and higher education as “sponsors” of tier 4 immigrants – students from outside the European Economic Area.

Previously such institutions, unless they were taxpayer-funded (and thus subject to compulsory inspection by the Quality Assurance Agency or Ofsted), had been obliged to seek “accreditation” from one of a small number of approved agencies, principally the British Accreditation Council (BAC) and the Accreditation Service for International Colleges (Asic). This regime had certainly not been foolproof.

There were a number of high-profile cases of abuse among private sector institutions, and last April the public sector Glasgow Caledonian University had its tier 4 licence briefly suspended even though it had been QAA quality-assured.

With the Home Secretary, Theresa May, at its helm, the Home Office announced its intention to drastically reduce non-EU migration to the UK. International students presented themselves as the easy target. The UKBA announced that it proposed to help meet the government's migration objectives by restricting the recruitment activities of both profit and not-for-profit private educational institutions.

Initially, it intended to do this by racially profiling non-EU students. This proposal (which would have required primary legislation) seems to have run into predictable opposition from within the coalition, and was quietly dropped. That left intact a plan to reduce – by any more or less legal means – the number of private colleges. This was to be carried out indirectly: by wholesale reform of the accreditation structure and by making this structure much more expensive to access.

Towards the end of 2010, the five then existing accrediting agencies were told they had been too “user-friendly” – too supportive of the colleges they were inspecting. Their services were summarily dispensed with. The work was given instead to the QAA and the Independent Schools Inspectorate. Each of these bodies was told to devise a system of “educational oversight” (EO) – an inspectorial regime to which most educational institutions (both HE and FE) in the private sector would have to submit themselves if they wished to continue sponsoring tier 4 immigrants.

I have been studying these EO procedures and talking with senior administrators and owners of institutions subject to inspection in this way. The two sets of procedures are alarmingly dissimilar. The QAA is not interested in auditing actual classroom teaching and makes no provision for this within its two-day inspection visit. Nor does it monitor an institution’s attendance policies.

ISI inspectors, by contrast, do, but they also spend a great deal of time in the classroom. And for this purpose the ISI apparently sees nothing untoward in authorising teaching observations by complete non-specialists. I have had reported to me a case of a former teacher of school-level English inspecting and passing judgments on the performance of the instructor of an advanced, postgraduate management class.

Both the QAA and the ISI are very expensive, and (presumably) deliberately so. A medium-sized college can expect to pay almost £20,000 for an initial inspection, plus (in the case of the QAA) an annual “maintenance” fee of £4,000. The BAC and ASIC were charging less than half these amounts. At an ISI meeting in January it was announced that annual re-inspections were being considered (although this is not a UKBA requirement), for which – naturally – an additional charge would be made. Little wonder that there were shouts of “extortion” from the audience.

The high-fees regime plus the prohibition of any part-time working by international students at private (but not taxpayer-funded) colleges have combined to ensure the dramatic contraction of the industry, which has historically acted as a vital “feeder” for the university sector. A recent report by the independent thinktank CentreForum estimates that, as a result of these new arrangements, there has been a 70% decline in international enrolments at private HE colleges. The contraction of the private FE sector is likely to have been at least as great.

It is a moot point whether international students should ever be included in net migration figures. An industry that is a flag-carrier for UK plc is being decimated. Just to please the anti-immigrant lobby. Source: The Guardian.

UK University leaders are also complaining about the government’s tough stance on student visas.

The YouGov poll, commissioned by Universities UK, found 63 per cent of people put the income received from overseas students at less than £5.3 billion – the government’s estimated figure for 2010.

A quarter of people put the value at below £500 million – about a tenth of the actual value.

More than a third of the 2,766 respondents (36 per cent) incorrectly believed international students were taking places allocated for home (UK and EU) students.

In fact, only 3% of foreign students settle permanently after 5 years.

Eric Thomas, president of Universities UK, said:

“These findings make for worrying reading.

“I think it is a reflection of the extent of the misunderstanding about the positive contribution international students make to regional and national economies, and to society more widely.

“The government’s approach to student visas must be proportionate and workable, and should not be imposed at the expense of our international reputation and our economic growth.”

Professor Thomas, vice-chancellor of University of Bristol, added that the international student market “is a powerful engine for future growth – and one which the UK can legitimately claim to be a world leader, second only to the US.

“The government could help grow this area of the economy by removing university-sponsored students from net migration figures.

“They should do this because the majority of students simply come here, study, and then leave.”

International non-EU students are currently allowed work in the UK for 2 years after their studies have finished under the Tier 1 PSW (Post-study work) route. But from 6 April, a more ‘selective’ system will be implemented restricting the right to stay to international graduates who qualify under new rules.

Only those who ‘graduate from a university’, and have a skilled job offer with a minimum salary of £20,000 (or more in some cases) from a reputable employer accredited by the UK Border Agency, will be allowed to continue living and working in the UK.

At present there is still confusion over the rights of foreign students, some of whom can work 20 hours per week and some who cannot work at all, and dependants of Tier 4 students visa holders.

The UK is in danger of losing its position in this competitive market. It is not just about the loss of fees and jobs. The student market promotes Britain all over the world.

Anecdotal evidence from college owners and Tier 4 students suggest that thousands of fee paying students are leaving the UK feeling that they have been pretty badly treated. This negative message is travelling around the world at the speed of light and having a devastating effect of the educational sector’s recruitment drive. 

Measures such as the ‘3 Year Rule’ (the maximum time limit on a student visa will be 3 years at lower levels and 5 years at higher levels) and ‘Established Presence’, as well as the ‘no work’ and ‘no dependants’ when studying at a private college are one hurdle too many for students who decide that it is just not worth the hassle anymore.

With each foreign student spending a conservative estimate of £15,000 a year on fees and living expenses (£5000 in fees and £10,000 living costs), every 1000 who leave the UK deprives the economy of £15 million.

If 100 private colleges shut up shop and each college employs 20 people, that’s 2000 jobs lost at a time when the UK desperately needs more employment.

If those 100 closed colleges had an average of just 300 students, that means 30,000 students are no longer paying fees which amounts to £150,000,000.

Much of this £150,000,000 would have gone straight to the exchequer in VAT, PAYE, NI and Corporation Tax payments.

The student visa changes do not affect Bulgarians and Romanians exercising treaty rights to study and work in the UK on Yellow Cards.

See also:

Universities UK appeals to government to reconsider student visa policy

New student visa rules announced today

Yes, “Established Presence” and Court Actions affect your Student Visa Extension

Overseas students and workers can qualify for a tax refund 

Tier 4 student visa laws ‘harm universities’ says former Education Minister

UK University applicants drops 8.7% but non-EU students increase, UCAS figures reveal

Employment restrictions for Bulgarians and Romanians extended until end of 2013

UK Immigration crackdown on Tier 4 students sees 70% fall in applications to private colleges

Can family dependants of Tier 4 Students work while studying in the UK?

Yellow or Blue Card Refused – Appeal or Reapply?

If you need any immigration advice or help with Sponsorship or Work Permits, Visa, ILR/Settlement, Citizenship, dependant visa or an appeal against a refusal please email: 

info@immigrationmatters.co.uk or visit www.immigrationmatters.co.uk

Majestic College offer special packages for EU students. They also have a number of employers looking for staff right now and are willing to employ Bulgarians and Romanians.

For more information call Joanna on 0208 207 1020 or email info@majesticcollege.org 

Overseas students and workers can qualify for a tax refund

You could qualify for a tax refund if you are an overseas student, work permit holder, Tier 1, Yellow or Blue Card holder - in fact any visa type – even if you are no longer legal or even in the UK!

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