The UK Government today announced strict new rules for foreign students hoping to come to the UK to study.
In a ‘Statement of Intent’, the Home Office published widely expected proposals for tighter rules for overseas students, and the universities and colleges hosting them, as part of Tier 4 of the Points Based System.
All colleges and universities recruiting students from outside the EU will have to be licensed and will have to take greater responsibility for their international students.
The Government will also introduce a series of measures to crack down on bogus colleges who abuse the system. Education providers face a ban on bringing over international students if they fail to follow strict new rules – including alerting the UK Border Agency (UKBA) if students fail to show or attend classes on a regular basis.
Once the points system starts next year, students will face stringent new criteria in order to study in the UK, say the UKBA, “ensuring only those who benefit Britain can come”.
To study in the UK, overseas students will be required to:
- be sponsored by a UKBA-licensed education institution
- prove they can support themselves and their families while studying here
- supply fingerprints
There will be stricter rules on work placements for students to “ensure that the UK‘s labour market is protected”, according to the announcement.
Border and Immigration Minister Liam Byrne said:
“All those who come to Britain must play by the rules. It is right that foreign students wanting to take advantage of our world-class universities and colleges must meet strict criteria.
“By locking people to one identity with ID cards, alongside a tough new sponsorship system, we will know exactly who is coming here to study and crack down on bogus colleges.”
Another new requirement is that visas will only be granted to students who show a “proven track record in education and are applying for a course that meets a minimum level of qualification”.
Students will be required to demonstrate they can financially support themselves and any dependants, which is the case under the current rules. However, students on courses for longer than 12 months will now have to show they have sufficient funds to pay their first year of fees, plus £9,600 to cover their first year in the UK.
In addition, students wishing to bring their dependants with them will need to show they have a further £535 per month for each person they bring.
The Home Office acknowledge that international students contribute £2.5 billion to the UK economy each year in tuition fees alone and an overall estimated contribution of £8.5 billion.
In recognition of the many economic and cultural benefits that these students bring to the UK, earlier this year the Government announced a special visa category allowing successful international students who have graduated from a British university to work in the UK for up to two years.
Higher Education Minister Bill Rammell said:
“I welcome the education sector’s involvement in developing a structure that allows international students to benefit from the excellent educational experience the UK offers, while giving them the opportunity to work in the UK for two years following graduation.
“However, I will not tolerate the minority of individuals who seek to damage the quality of our education system through bogus colleges. This is why we have introduced tighter checks to the current Register of Education and Training Providers. The new system will toughen this process further and give extra protection from the damage bogus colleges can cause.”
Under the new system currently being introduced education providers catering for foreign nationals must be granted a licence by the UKBA, they can then sponsor students to come to the UK.
The new regime also acts as a “pledge from the college or university that they accept responsibility for the student while they are in the UK”.
Universities and colleges could lose their licence if they fail to:
- keep copies of all their foreign students’ passports
- keep and update their students’ contact details
- alert the UKBA to any students who fail to enrol on their course
- report unauthorised absences to the UKBA
- inform the UKBA if any student stops their studies
The sponsorship register for colleges and universities is now open.
In 2006, 309,000 people came to Britain on student visas from outside the EU.
The Home Office said that student visitors had to pass an “intentions test” showing they support themselves and will leave after completing their course.
Shadow Immigration Minister Damian Green told the Telegraph:
“This new system is so full of loopholes it will be useless at best and might even encourage the growth of bogus colleges or applications.”
The Government is right to crack down on bogus colleges, but not at the expense of the thousands of genuine educational establishments promoting British education abroad.
The message going out to potential students must not be so negative that we shoot ourselves in the foot and play into the hands of more welcoming countries such as Canada and Australia.
In the fiercely competitive global student market, the UK could lose out to competitors offering lower fees, lower living costs and lower barriers to long term stay.