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Study UK response to new Government student visa measures

29 July 2014

Study UK has responded to a joint announcement by the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary that the rules for educational institutions sponsoring international students will be dramatically tightened. From 1st November, the proportion of student visa applications that can be refused before their sponsor is stripped of its licence will be halved from 20% to 10%.

Alex Proudfoot, Study UK Association Manager, speaking to The PIE News, said: "We were disappointed to hear that the Home Secretary has chosen to proceed with this policy change after the idea was met with almost universal criticism when floated earlier this year. We do not think it is helpful, we have seen no evidence to suggest it is necessary, and we are concerned that it will have damaging and unintended consequences across the UK's education sector.

"The Home Office has many tools at its disposal to tackle suspected abuse or non-compliance in the student visa system, and the visa refusal rate was already the bluntest and least fit for purpose. There are a host of factors that can affect a sponsor's refusal rate, and very few which are within their control. The visa decision-making process is far from perfect, and errors by entry clearance officers are common but can be stubbornly hard to correct. Subjective assessments are made of a student's 'credibility' at interview, with questionable conclusions reached daily which cannot be appealed. Simple mistakes are made frequently by prospective students themselves, despite the best efforts of institutions.

"This change will hit smaller providers the hardest, including further education and sixth form colleges, language schools, and specialist institutions which attract students from across the world through word of mouth alone. They do not have the sheer volume of student numbers to absorb any unexpected spike in refusals. The Home Office claims that a discretionary approach is adopted towards small institutions, but it is too narrow in scope, is too inconsistently applied, and gives little reassurance or comfort to institutions, their shareholders or trustees.

"The Government press release promises 'a 3 month transitional period for colleges and universities to re-examine their admissions procedures before offering individuals places'. In truth, just two days' notice has been given before visa refusals will start to count towards this new 10% threshold on 1st August.

"For its part, the Government should use these next three months to enter into a dialogue with the sector as to how it might differentiate between its pursuit of any remaining 'bogus student colleges' (the intended target, as publicly stated by the Prime Minister, of today's action) and any unintentional, collateral damage to genuine institutions. These institutions need urgent reassurance that the Government seeks only to eradicate abuse, not simply to reduce genuine student numbers in absolute terms. They need confirmation that the Home Office will therefore exercise discretion and restraint towards sponsors whose refusal rates exceed 10% through no clear fault of their own. The reputation of UK education depends on it."

ENDS

Notes to Editors

  1. For further information, email info@study-uk.org or call 020 7608 7090.
  2. Study UK is the UK’s leading association for independent further and higher education institutions and specialist training providers, with over 120 quality-assured members.
  3. The Government announcement can be read in full here.
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