|Australia fast-tracks streamlined visas for ‘low-risk’ providers
Private colleges and Tafes considered to be “low-risk” will be soon be able to enjoy the same streamlined visa rights as universities in the second half of 2012, following an announcement by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), which comprises the Prime Minister, the State Premiers and Territory Chief Ministers.
Since the Knight Review recommendations were implemented, Australian universities have been able to treat all students, regardless of nationality, as the lowest assessment level. Extending this privilege to trusted operators in other sectors allows those providers to speed up the visa application process for students from key markets such as India and China.
Claire Field, CEO of the Australian Council for Private Education and Training (Acpet), said, “Acpet strongly supports the decision taken by the Prime Minister and the Premiers at the COAG meeting of 13 April to introduce streamlining for trusted providers outside the university sector.
“With reviews of international education now underway in Victoria, Western Australia and New South Wales and the establishment of the International Education Advisory Council by the Commonwealth government to set the strategic direction for international education in Australia, we are once again putting out the welcome mat for international students,” Field added.
Sue Blundell, Executive Director of English Australia, the national peak body and language school association, said, “The English language sector welcomes the inclusion of international education in the COAG communiqué as an indication of its importance and in recognition of the significant decline that has been experienced by the sector over the last two years.”
The criteria for determining “low-risk” providers are still being considered by the Immigration Department. Blundell said she hoped the framework would be “genuinely inclusive of all types of providers so that the Elicos sector has some chance of seeing a turnaround in the 30-month decline it has experienced to date”.
In reference to the improved work rights for university students that were implemented as part of the Knight Review, Field added, “Acpet sees only one initiative left to fully move the Australian system from its current operations to a risk-based one, and that is the introduction of post-study work rights for students studying at the best private and public VET providers.”
Pakistani students face UK student visa
Every student from Pakistan seeking a student visa for the UK will now face a compulsory interview, following a secret pilot study by the UK Borders Agency (UKBA) that found as many as 40 per cent of applications could be ineligible.
The plan to conduct interviews atBritish consulates in Pakistan will initially run on a short-term basis. “Britain is still open for business to the best and brightest,” said a government source in The Guardian. “But our message to bogus students is clear: you will be found out and you will be stopped from coming. This is an important way of weeding out bogus students.”
For the past few years, visas have been approved via paper applications, with a refusal rate of around 20 per cent. However, the secret pilot study conducted face-to-face interviews with student visa applicants and indicated that 43 per cent were ineligible. The main reason cited for ineligibility was an inability to answer basic questions in English without the aid of an interpreter.
Abdul Wahid Abbasi, an education advisor based in Pakistan, commented that many genuine students would be denied entry to the UK when the new interview system is introduced. “The mandatory interview announcement casts a disappointing shadow on Pakistani students and reminds them of the dark period of some years back when visa officers would refuse entry, even to genuine students, just due to the fact that the majority would get hesitant and embarrassed to face a British visa officer,” he explained.
Abbasi argued that language assessment should ultimately be determined by transparent tests such as Ielts and the institutions. “It should be the college/university’s responsibility to scrutinise students’ English language ability prior to issuing admission onto certain courses,” he said.
The secret pilot study was extended to other overseas posts and discovered high failure rates in Bangladesh (38 per cent), India (29 per cent), Egypt (28 per cent) and Sri Lanka (27 per cent).
ExpoBelta 2012 attracts 6,000 visitors
ExpoBelta, the annual gathering of international institutions, Brazilian agencies and students organised by the Brazilian Education & Language Travel Association (Belta), was held recently in São Paulo, attracting over 6,000 visitors across two days.
There were 70 exhibitors at the conference, including institutions from the Americas, Europe, Africa and Oceania, as well as Belta members and service providers.
Exhibitors were impressed with the event, according to Belta President, Maura Leão. “This year we had a growing presence of excellent international institutions, an important sponsor and the best Brazilian agencies. The layout was amazing and the visitors were extremely focused on what they wanted,” she said.
New Zealand was the Guest of Honour, with a pavilion and over 20 institutions in attendance. “For us, it was important to strengthen the brand,” said Ana Azevedo, Education Manager of Latin America for Education New Zealand. The event also featured seminars, workshops, a forum, and a roundtable discussion between former study abroad students and visitors.
International code of ethics for agents
Education officials from the UK, Australia, Ireland and New Zealand have issued a joint statement of principles for “ethical international student recruitment”.
The “London statement” issues seven principles and an ethical framework, including areas such as responsible business ethics, accurate information, transparency, and the protection of minors. The statement was agreed at talks held by the British Council in March, after discussion commenced in early 2010. The USA and Canada were also involved in discussions but are not, as yet, signatories.
Pat Killingley, British Council Director of Higher Education, said the principles were about encouraging good practice. “This is about supporting the vast majority of responsible agents and setting out clearly what our expectations are, to help ensure that international students receive a good service and sound advice when they consult an agent.” In an exclusive interview with STM, Killingley further commented that the scheme was about protecting the reputation of education in the four countries and the reputation of good agencies and associations. The next step will be to talk to the agents’ representative bodies and urge them to implement the principles.
Felca, the international forum of language and education travel associations, was not consulted in the drafting of the code. Killingley, however, expressed hope that the similarity of the statement to Felca’s own code of conduct would see members endorse the principles and assist in extending best practice. Scott Wade, Felca Coordinator, observed, “The Felca code of practice, of which the London statement is a close reflection, has been in place for the last 15 years.”
For countries with less established association representation, Killingley said, “We will be talking to those that we can reach and working with reputable agents to extend good practice.” She added that the British Council agent scheme is already training around these principles and will be a method through which they hope to reach non-Felca agencies.
The roundtable will convene again in 2013 with each country deciding on how best to implement the principles. No decisions have yet been made on how they will be implemented and enforced.
UED survey reveals visa acceptance
UED, the Turkish agency association, has unveiled the results of its member survey, including data for visa acceptances that show Canada and Australia as having the lowest approval rates.
The survey, conducted among UED’s 42 members, also revealed that Belgium, China and Japan were offering 100 per cent acceptance. Australia and Canada, both with 87 per cent, had the lowest visa approval rates for Turkish students. Among the reasons cited for refusal, 45 per cent were given as “travel purpose suspicious”, while 36 per cent related to insufficient funds. The success rate in appeals against refused visas was 47 per cent.
Gokhan Islamoglu, UED Coordinator, said that “suspicious purposes” was a visa officers’ opinion and that members wouldn’t send an application they thought was not genuine. “The increasing level of collaboration and communication between visa sections and agents can solve this problem and can increase the acceptance rates,” said Islamoglu. “I’m glad to say that both the Canadian and Australian embassies in Turkey have created good communication links with local agents and we are hopeful and expecting a significant increase in visa application rates soon,” he added.
The results, first presented at the recent Alphe Istanbul Conference, showed 40 per cent of agency business was for language schools. A clear distinction in favoured destination between language and tertiary students was evident. The UK was comfortably first choice for language study, accounting for 48 per cent of bookings. However, in higher education study, the USA was the most favoured destination, chosen by 30 per cent of students.
New Zealand reveals Christchurch impact, relaxes rules
International student numbers dropped by 37 per cent in Christchurch in 2011, but remained steady in the country as a whole with just a 0.5 per cent decline, according to figures released by the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment, Steven Joyce.
“The earthquakes in Canterbury have severely impacted the number of people from overseas wishing to study in Christchurch,” said Joyce. Christchurch is usually New Zealand’s second largest centre for international education. There were 9,573 international fee paying student enrolments in Canterbury in 2011, compared with 15,201 in 2010.
However, international students across the rest of New Zealand increased by six per cent, meaning the country as a whole declined by only 0.5 per cent, while income from international tuition fees actually rose by 3.3 per cent. In total 98,930 international fee-paying students enrolled in 2011, compared with 99,446 in 2010. China (including Hong Kong) was the largest source market with 23,071 students, an increase of 8.5 per cent. All education sectors suffered a slight decline.
The Minister added that the government was assisting providers in Christchurch and pledged NZ$5 million (US$4.1 million) of support for the area, which includes international marketing and subsidised travel grants to increase the flow of students.
The government has also announced that international students will no longer need to provide full medical assessments, and health screening for partners or dependents will be limited to serious conditions such as tuberculosis, saving students approximately NZ$17 million (US$14 million) in medical costs. New Zealand Immigration Minister, Nathan Guy, said, “These changes will make it easier for low-risk, high-value students to come to New Zealand.”