There is no doubt that the UK education sector has noticed the difference made by the tightening of UK visa regulations in recent years. As part of the Government’s strategy to reduce immigration, rules regarding student visas have become more strict and schools, colleges and universities have been forced to reduce their ability to sponsor students and undergo new accreditations to maintain their sponsorship status. This is mainly due to the government’s inclusion of non-EU students in their migration figures.
Edinburgh School of English, as a highly trusted sponsor, naturally applied to undergo these new inspections and this was completed recently by Education Scotland, the regulatory body for Scottish state and independent schools. Provisionally, we have passed! This should mean that we will still be able to sponsor students to come to study with us on the Tier 4 general student visa, in addition to the existing Student Visitor Visa (SVV) or Extended Student Visitor Visa.
In many ways we as a school are quite lucky. We focus on intensive language courses – which inherently means that many of our students stay for just a few weeks and therefore only require an SVV. But, we, like many other English language schools, receive students who either wish to study for longer, or students going on to Higher Education and need to be on a Tier 4 to be sponsored by us and then by their chosen university. Currently, students on an SVV must leave the country if they wish to alter the the status of their visa, which is inconvenient and expensive should they be coming back to do a university/college course – and this is putting off many foreign students from coming to the UK in the first place.
Therefore, I welcome the recent push by Damian Green to counteract the negative perceptions of the Visa tightening, insisting that non-EU nationals are welcome in the UK (BBC, 26th June). Mr. Green is correct, the UK has some of the best universities in the world and to remain great, they must continue to attract a global audience of the best students and it is wholly correct that we should do all we can to attract the best international talent.
However, as pointed out in forum groups focused on EFL, the main focus of this drive seems to be on universities – forgetting about FE colleges and language schools.
What is interesting is that FE Colleges and Language schools actually act as feeders into Universities – either helping students obtain a Level 3 or 4 Foundation diploma, or perhaps gaining IELTS at 5.5 or above to ensure their conditional offer to University is accepted. I feel, as do many others, that the Government should not overlook this when considering the bigger picture. Universities may mean more to the UK economy – but they will not maintain this level of revenue if the feeder colleges and schools are not able to suitably prepare students – as they no longer have students to prepare!
It has been reported by the PIE news, that David Cameron is considering a U-Turn by stopping the inclusion of students in his net Migration statistics – no doubt as a result of pressure from Universities, who say that this inclusion could cost the UK economy £2.4 billion.
It would be great to see this U-Turn happen. But, I would hope that Mr. Cameron realises that the £2.4 billion loss is contributed to by other sectors in education and not just Universities and will thus reconsider his stance for the whole International Education Industry in the UK.
I think it will be costly if he does not!