|Visas in spotlight
The big news this month is the announcement by UK Home Secretary, Theresa May, regarding changes to the Tier 4 visa system. Although the finer details of the changes are yet to be announced, the plans are likely to have far reaching consequences for many language and education providers in the country. Two points seem to suggest major changes to the visa granting structure the streamlining of requirements from low risk students and prioritising resources on high risk students and these need further clarification in the near future to assess the effects this will have on the industry.
On the surface, many of the changes being introduced seem to be positive steps in ensuring that only genuine students are allowed to study in the UK. The aim to reduce the number of student visas issued by 70,000-80,000 reducing the total by 25 per cent is more of a concern however, as genuine students will surely be adversely affected in this decrease. It is of concern that the UK government is intent on reducing net migration by targeting student visas when international students can and do go on to become valuable members of the UK society, contributing financially to universities and public services.
There is also evidence that the visa changes could create more problems under the student visitor visa category as attention and resources are directed towards Tier 4. Tony Millns, CEO of English UK, voiced concerns that entry clearance officers would not be checking to see if student visitor visa holders were enrolled at accredited institutions which would allow bogus students to study at suspect colleges and effectively provide a loophole for entry into the country.
Assessing the visa requirements of students on the basis of nationality and percieved risk is a positive step however, and follows the Australian model, which is also currently under review. A discussion paper on the Australian visa review headed up by the Hon Michael Knight, a former politician, and released in March highlighted the problems facing the international education industry in Australia and acknowledged the role that the student visa system had on helping or hindering in the future. As with the UK, an effective and fair visa system may not be the deciding factor for students choosing where to study but it can certainly set the tone of whether a country is viewed as a welcoming place for international visitors or whether its modus operandi is to treat them with a certain amount of suspicion.