Difficult new rules for UK
The UK ELT industry was struggling to adjust to the news that the entry bar for international students had been raised in mid-February, with the announcement of the outcome of the review of the student visa system.
Essentially, Student Visas, which enable the bearer of the visa to work part-time, are now only available to visa applicants with an intermediate level of English (B1), who are applying for a course which is at B2 level (upper intermediate). And, part-time work rights have been reduced, from 20 hours per week to only 10 hours per week.
The exemptions to this rule are for students sponsored by overseas governments and those on pre-sessional English language courses that prepare students for full degree courses; they will not need to demonstrate a B1 level. Additionally, none of the new rules apply to foundation degree students, those studying at degree level or above.
The main impact of the new rules, which came into effect on March 3, will be felt among “gap year” students who would previously have studied in the UK, improving their elementary level of English, for example, while working to fund their trip. Now, for any student below B1 level, the only route is the Student Visitor Visa, which is for up to six months and forbids any part-time work.
Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, said that the changes were “to ensure that Tier 4 is less open to abuse from economic migrants seeking to exploit English language courses which have low entry requirements”. Industry bodies were aghast at the news. Tony Millns, Chief Executive of English UK, said, “English UK members have reacted angrily to the announcement and do not believe that the Home Secretary understands the issue, or wants to. It is crude short-term politics aimed at electoral advantage and highly regrettable that the government has chosen to cast foreign students as illegal migrants.”
And the British Council’s Chief Executive, Martin Davidson, said, “We are concerned that the need for students to speak a good standard of English before coming here to learn English will block genuine non-EU students from coming to the UK’s many excellent language schools and preparing for future study here. The solution must be that accredited language course providers are able to continue to sponsor student visas for long-stay students at lower levels of English.”
Many schools said that the rules would have an inevitable impact on business. Mark Harrington of Berlitz Manchester reported that the news had an immediate effect on his business, with him delaying signing a lease on new larger-capacity premises in the wake of the announcement. “I believe [the new rules] will affect up to 30-to-40 per cent of our business, mainly because of the students’ language level requirement... It will have a major, major impact,” he said.
New visa fees were also announced on the same day, with the cost of Student Visas rising from UK£145 (US$228) to UK£199 (US$313). One further change is that a new Highly Trusted Sponsor list will replace the current Register of Sponsors more details will follow.
Overseas, education agents were, however, more positive about the changes. Alexandra Galindo from Global Connection in Colombia acknowledged that there would be an impact on student numbers, “specifically for the fact that B1 level is required, and also the restriction of working to 10 hours a week, when other countries allow 20 hours a week”. But she pointed out, “this will for sure stop the abuse of some students who seem to be genuine but at the end are interested in working more than studying”.
Others suggested students will acclimatise. Jacqueline Ramos at B to W Brazilians to the World in Brazil, said, “The new rules will simply help students to decide between the Student Visitor Visa or the Student Visa applied under Tier 4. Similar policies regarding permission to work while studying are already implemented by other countries such as New Zealand, where Brazilians can only work after getting a minimum 5.0 Ielts score at the time they apply for the permit.”
And in India one of the countries that had seen an excessive increase in Student Visa applications since Tier 4 was rolled out Naresh Bharti from Turning Point Studies Consultants said that some agencies previously accepting students “without even looking at their overall education performance and English proficiency” had affected the UK’s reputation. “We believe now that genuine students will come and be happy to study in the UK those who were not interested to study in the UK before as they were feeling that the UK is welcoming all, regardless of educational profile.”
Saudi scholarship scheme extended
King Abdullah, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, has approved the extension of Saudi Arabia’s scholarship education programme for five more years.
Press reports indicated that scholarship places for the UK and Australia were being scaled down for the time being, to achieve a balance of students across participating countries, which number 24 at present.
A spokesperson from Australia’s Education Department told Campus Review that Australia’s quota was on hold only until current students on English language programmes move into undergraduate programmes.
Around 62,000 students have been sent overseas since the launch of the scholarship programme in 2005. The aim is to actively develop and qualify Saudi human resources to be world-competitive in the work market and academic research, and to develop a high calibre base in Saudi universities, public and private sectors.
BLS, France and LCI, Ireland close
Two language schools in different countries announced their closure earlier this year, owing to a difficult operating environment.
BLS in France, which had operations in Bordeaux and Biarritz, filed for bankruptcy in late December, citing the recession and redundancy costs as well as two lawsuits lost against former employees, incurring compensation payments as the reasons for its “critical financial situation”.
An Ialc member, BLS’s Director and Managing Director sent a message to agents apologising that the school had reached the point of no return. There were reports of some unresolved payment issues with agents at the time of going to press.
Another Ialc member, the venerable Language Centre of Ireland (LCI) in Dublin, also announced its closure, but in a planned fashion at the end of February, ahead of a possibly difficult financial situation. Owner of the school, Tom Doyle, told Language Travel Magazine that he had decided to close the school because he felt that 2010 would be a “risky period” for English language schools in Ireland, given the sterling to euro differential and decreasing margins. “I don’t want to close in an unorganised way,” he said, “and I don’t want to gamble with my staff’s future.”
Any LCI students were transferred to another school or offered a refund as an alternative.
TUI’s Student Division acquires The Hampstead School of English, UK
Following on from its acquisition of EAC last year, TUI’s Student Division has announced its acquisition of its second UK company within the English language teaching sector; The Hampstead School of English (HSE) in London.
The 33-year-old school, accredited by the British Council as well as Ialc and Eaquals, can accommodate 484 students and fits into TUI’s plans to grow its position in the sector by acquiring reputable operators. Ian Finlay, Managing Director of TUI Travel’s Activity Sector - Student Division, commented, “The division has always sought to acquire market leaders, the ‘best in breed’ that consistently deliver excellent customer experiences.” He continued, “I am delighted to include Kevin McNally and the team at HSE within our portfolio. Through HSE, we have the opportunity to grow our business in the ELT market.”
Kevin McNally will remain at the school as Managing Director while Jill and Leslie Sieff, also ex-owners, will act as consultants. McNally said that TUI’s strength would enable HSE to grow and evolve the business: “It is a really exciting time as we set out on this next chapter in our growth.”
Compulsory training for Australia’s agents?
Australia’s Senate Inquiry into International Student Welfare has published its recommendations, one of which is that within three years, Australia’s education providers only work with education agents who have completed a relevant training course such as the current Education Agent Training Course (EATC), offered by Pier Online.
Other key recommendations made by the Senate Committee are for a re-appraisal of the 20 hours per week part-time work rule for students and online orientation resources made available for all international students.
As well as overhauling its General Skilled Migration programme quite significantly (see page 40), Australia commissioned the Senate Inquiry into International Student Welfare as part of a major attempt to clean up and streamline Australia’s education export industry, following violence against Indian students. This inquiry dovetails with the Education Services for Overeas Students (Esos) Act review, which was ongoing at the time of going to press.
Public hearings were conducted in various cities and the recommendations also include: an expansion of the eVisa system for trusted agents; public transport concessions for international students; accommodation information available on the websites of all education institutions; personal safety information to be provided to all students at orientation sessions, with information packs (ideally in native language) available both in hard copy and online; an information tool comparing provision and services across education providers; and ensuring education agents can access “authoritative information regarding studying in Australia”.
The Senate Committee is cognisant of the role that education agents play in Australia’s education export industry, stating in one paragraph: “While the unscrupulous behaviour of some agents has caused problems, education agents have generally played a key role in the development of the international education industry.”
The Esos Amendment Bill 2009, introduced last year, also requires the re-registration of all international education providers listed on the Cricos register by the end of the year and the publication of the names of all partner education agents by individual institutions (see LTM, February 2010, page 7).