UK plans another shake-up of visa system
The British industry showed extraordinary dynamism and motivation last year when Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, announced in November that there was to be an unexpected review of the student visa system, with a number of new proposals put forward to prevent bogus immigrants entering the country.
In fact, the proposals amounted to a full-scale assault on the international education sector, and industry bodies were given just 10 days to respond to specific proposals set out by the UK Border Agency (UKBA). Hundreds of stakeholders lobbied MPs, signed a petition and returned submissions.
Among the proposals was a suggestion that the minimum level of study permissible on a student visa would be raised from NQF level 3 to level 4 meaning all foundation and A-level preparation programmes would no longer be able to recruit non-European nationals who require a student visa.
Susan De Jesus, City College Brighton’s International Welfare Advisor, said, “If all of the questions raised in the review were implemented, we would simply have no international students. Many of our courses are preparing international students for university in the UK. How would these students now prepare for university in the UK?”
And James Pitman, Managing Director at Study Group for Higher Education in Europe, commented, “This is the biggest attack on the international education sector ever. If full implementation [went ahead] then we would no longer be a viable company in the UK.”
More particularly posing a huge impact to the English language teaching sector was a suggestion that the current minimum requirement of English ability for student visa issuance CEFR level A2 be raised further.
Tony Millns, Chief Executive of English UK, wrote in an extensive submission, “Given all other controls suggested, we see no reason to introduce such a restriction, and note that no other major English-speaking destination country has such a policy. To introduce it would have disastrous consequences in public diplomacy terms because it would lead to the almost total exclusion of students from countries such as Saudi Arabia.”
Millns forecast that if all proposals were adopted, the cost could be over UK£2 billion (US$3.3 billion) in lost revenue. Other points concerned access to vocational courses; a differential approach for countries with high-risk status; work rights; and a limit on progression through the education system without returning students returning to their home country.
The other proposal causing real concern was that part-time work rights for non-EU students be revoked. This anti-competitive measure would put the UK at a disadvantage to Ireland and Australia, for example.
Janey Futerill, Principal of King Street College in London, said that her school would be out of business within six months should this become law. “I would think it would be the same for any school in our price bracket serving the same student demographic… with many student nationalities that need to work to support themselves,” she said.
The review was ordered in a political climate of concern over negative immigration headlines, but industry bodies were keen to point out that the new Points-Based System, which rolls out the IT-based sponsor management system in February, had not had enough time to be sufficiently fine-tuned. Millns acknowleged that the system wasn’t perfect and strongly advocated for an improvement in assessing financial eligibility, as well as a “trusted partner” scheme for education agents, to ensure no systematic abuse of the visa system in applicants’ home countries.
“We warned [that a rule requiring evidence of funds in bank account for 28 days prior to application] constituted a loophole open to obvious abuse,” he wrote. “There could be much more reliance placed on the payment of course fees in advance, because that places the applicant at a greater degree of commitment and risk.” He also suggested an alternative option of paying fees into a central fund prior to application, which could be then transferred to a candidate’s institution upon successful visa issuance.
The government is expected to make an announcement early in 2010.
Canada values foreign student income
A contribution of more than CAN$6.5 billion (US$6.1 billion) has been attributed to the income generated by international students in Canada in 2008. A report, the Economic Impact of International Education in Canada, was commissioned for the first time by the Department for Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
“International students provide a significant boost to Canada’s economy,” commented Stockwell Day, Minister of International Trade. “[We] will continue efforts to promote Canada as the destination of choice for... students by enhancing outreach efforts at our missions around the world.” The report revealed that China provided most foreign students, followed by Korea and then the USA.
Australia rules on agent disclosure
As Australia continues to overhaul its approach to its education export industry, it has announced an interim ruling for the Education Services for Overseas Students (Esos) Act in its Esos Amendment Bill; agreed by the House in October and passing through the Senate at the time of going to press.
The bill clarifies that all education providers must re-register with new requirements (see LTM, November 2009, page 6) and that all providers must “list the names of education agents who represent them and promote their education services; and... comply with any matters prescribed in the regulations concerning their agents.” The actual detail is yet to be defined by the industry, with industry associations such as English Australia liaising with Department of Education officials.
The entire Esos Act is also being reviewed by Hon Bruce Baird, who released his preliminary findings on 7 December. He is considering whether education agents should be accredited ahead of his final report that will be presented to the government in early 2010.
The interim report highlights student safety, pre-departure briefings, social cohesion on campus, a national resolution council and dedicated police response for international students as all issues to be considered. Baird also noted that student accommodation should be better regulated to avoid overcrowding and low quality.
Regulation may be more closely aligned to providers’ risk, reported The Australian, which will be indicated by financial standing, affiliations, agents and diversity of student nationality.
A new National International Student Strategy is also being developed by the Council of Australian Governments, as Australia engages in repairing its image overeas. The ameliorative efforts are being made after a tumultuous year in which violence against Indian students and college closures hit the headlines. Australian Education International (AEI) stated that the efforts were to “ensure Australia continues to offer world class quality international education in this challenging and changing environment”.
One final change ushered in last year was a rule that students changing providers in-country would not be required to pay a second AUS$540 (US$490) visa charge. Twelve education providers closed in 2009, affecting 4,700 students. All students were refunded or offered alternative tuition, but this latter option had entailed a visa fee.
World Innovation Summit for Education held in Qatar
The inaugural World Innovation Summit for Education was held in Qatar earlier this year and attended by an impressive international rollcall of influencers and entrepreneurs, all keen to take part in a summit on the evolution of education.
Organised by the Qatar Foundation under the patronage of Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al Missned, the event saw over 1,000 leading education stakeholders attend, from the sphere of education, politics, the private sector, multimedia, and others. Co-Founder of Twitter, Biz Stone; Anthony Salcito, Vice President, Microsoft Worldwide Education and former Chancellor of Germany, Gerhard Schröder, were examples of the diverse invitees: Schröder spoke about sustainability while Stone talked about harnessing multimedia for educational purposes. Ten strategic priorities were also declared: see wise-qatar.org.
Open Doors: Big boost for USA
The annual Open Doors report, commissioned by the USA’s Institute for International Education, has revealed that in the 2008/2009 academic year, a 16 per cent rise in new international enrolments was noted with an overall rise in foreign student numbers of eight per cent.
This is the largest percentage growth since 1980/81 and shows a third consecutive year of growth within US mainstream education after some slow years post 9/11.
“I am delighted to see the large increase in the number of international students who are choosing to study in the United States,” said Judith A McHale, Under-Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.
India remained the leading country of origin (15.4 per cent) followed by China (14.6 per cent); South Korea (11.2 per cent); Canada and Japan (both 4.4 per cent). In terms of strong growth trends, Vietnam posted growth of 46.2 per cent, with Nepal and Saudi Arabia both also showing impessive growth levels of close to 30 per cent.
A snapshot survey undertaken in the autumn to provide a more up-to-date picture revealed slightly less positive growth, with 50 per cent of responding campuses continuing to see growth (down from 57 per cent the previous year), 24 per cent reporting declines and 26 per cent reporting consistent enrolments.