THREAT TO LANGUAGE SCHOOLS AND THE EDUCATION MARKET
Victims of a change in visa rules
Major changes have been taking place in the immigration system in 2009/10, with the introduction of Tier 4 (Students), part of the new Points-Based System for immigration.
The new system is for managing applications by people who wish to come to the United Kingdom to work, train or study.
Universities and other education providers now register and are vetted to act as “sponsors” for student visa applicants. It is possibly the most significant change to the immigration system for around 40 years.
The system will replace over 80 existing routes to work and study in the United Kingdom with five tiers. The five tiers are as follows:
• tier 1 – highly skilled workers, for example scientists and entrepreneurs;
• tier 2 – skilled workers with a job offer, for example teachers and nurses;
• tier 3 – low skilled workers filling specific temporary labour shortages, for example construction workers for a particular project;
• tier 4 – students;
• tier 5 – youth mobility and temporary workers for example musicians coming to play in a concert.
Students must obtain 40 points before they can apply for Tier 4 and be given a Visa.
The original plan included the key dates and milestones by which Tier 4 was to be introduced. The aim is that Tier 4 should be fully implemented by February next year. The Prime Minister, in the interim, announced a review of student visas in November – conducted jointly by the Home Office and the Department for Business which is due to report this month.
However, some UK institutions and providers are getting very worried about how this new system is being applied and its consequences. They believe that many foreign students will be deterred from applying for UK universities, colleges and other providers (ie language courses) .
The proposals, for instance, include a measure to raise the minimum level of student visas to degree level only, so disallowing entry to university via a foundation route, and to Baccalaureate and A-level courses for many students. Raising the visa entry threshold to degree level only will it is estimated close the door to around 25,000 overseas students who enter UK universities annually via A-level or foundation courses in Britain. The effects would therefore be felt across universities, A-level colleges and independent schools. There is another proposal that visas should require a new high level of English language qualification. But foundation courses exist precisely to enable overseas students to reach that standard.
The British Council estimates that overseas students’ fees directly and indirectly benefit this country by £8.5 billion. There are 600,000 foreign students who are in the UK to learn English, and over 400,000 are in the 435 centres of English UK. That is estimated to generate £1.5 billion of foreign earnings for the UK economy. There is great potential for growth too. Many of these businesses are family businesses. Language schools are very important because, according to the recent survey, 52 per cent. of their students either go on to study for professional qualifications or go to UK universities. That provides a major income for our universities. In our universities in 2007-08, 229,640 students were from outside the EU, generating a fee income of £1.87 billion-about 8 per cent. of the income for UK universities.
But the changes in Government immigration policy and a tightening up of Visa requirements means that as many as 50,000 students could end up not being able to come to the UK, resulting in a loss of hundreds of millions of pounds-worth of foreign exchange and in those people not feeding through to the university sector. The introduction of the points-based system has had some positive effects with the sponsor-licensing system resulting in the closure of about 2,000 organizations that were clearly not providing a decent and proper education and which were exploiting students, who had often paid up front for non-courses.
On the other hand as at 2 December 2009, the UK Border Agency had approved 1,925 organizations to sponsor migrant students under this tier 4 points-based system. But critics claim that current proposals need to be urgently rethought because of the potential long term damage it could do to the UK Education market.
The Review announced just last month is reporting this month and critics suggest that it is far too rushed and the Government needs to consult properly with all stakeholders as to the effects that these new measures are having on an important sector of the UK economy.