UK visa system settling down?
Most education institutions in the UK would agree that the crossover to the new points-based system (PBS) has not gone smoothly, with the rules about what a student’s confirmation letter should state, for example, in disarray, with various countries requiring differing information to others.
There were many reports of incongruous reasons for visa refusal in the early summer, but the Chief Executive of English UK, Tony Millns, said he was confident that the system was bedding down. “UKBA [UK Borders Authority] tell us that the refusal rate for students overall for June was close to the historic norm of 30 per cent,” he said, although he acknowledged, “perceptions are that it is still higher than it should be”.
He explained that English UK had been working closely with UKBA to identify problems, both in terms of policy, interpretation and particular countries. “UKBA has issued guidance to ECOs [Entry Clearance Officers] to help avoid refusals for trivial reasons and they are being encouraged to check back with applicants or centres if information is incomplete, rather than just refusing the application,” said Millns. “We are continuing to work with UKBA on all aspects of the system, including drafting guidance for how the non-PBS routes of Student Visitor and Child Visitor should work, and encouraging member centres to send in to us any refusal notices that prospective students receive so we can analyse where remaining problems are.”
Some schools did say that problems seemed to be easing at the time of writing, but nevertheless, many UK providers remained incensed at the complete lack of cohesion in the system. Kevin McNally at Hampstead School of English said, “I’ve seen very few refusals that I thought were justified and a more cynical person might say the ECOs are wielding as much power as they can over silly details because they have lost a lot of their discretion over the decisions.” He said his school had to issue different confirmation letters for students depending on where they were from and the accepted standard in that country.
Anders Ahlund at EF added that the issue of students having to show all the money required while overseas in their own accounts 28 days prior to application was also proving to be difficult, particularly for some parents unkeen to transfer large sums of money.
The UK’s “transparent” system is known to be modelled on the Australian visa system, and although this is widely perceived to be an excellent model, Sue Blundell at English Australia acknowledged that problems occurred in the transition there too. Admittedly introduced soon after 9/11, “we certainly saw declining numbers for a couple of years after the new regime was introduced”, she said. “Some markets responded badly to being classified as ‘high risk’ [distinct from the UK system]. It was after a few tweaks of the system that things really settled into the workable system we have now.”
Malvern House acquired by AEC Education
London-based language school, Malvern House, announced in July its acquisition by AEC Education Group PLC, a UK-based company that has Asian business interests, with schools offering diploma and degree programmes in China (AASM), Vietnam (BrainBox) and Singapore (AEC Singapore and SmartWorks). AEC Education also owns the LCCI exam franchise in Asia.
Liam Swords, Chairman of AEC Education, noted that the company did not currently have a presence in the UK and had been seeking a suitable acquistion. “We see exciting opportunities to market Malvern House’s courses to our existing student base and build close links between our respective marketplaces,” he commented. “We already have a large student network in the Far East and demand for UK-based study, especially in London, is strong and continues to grow.”
Nick Hobson, Marketing Director at Malvern House, added that the school’s shareholders had decided to forge a future with AEC Education because they believed it was in the best interests of Malvern House and all of its staff. “The question was, whether we could go faster, and continue to develop our business, with AEC, and we decided that we definitely could,” he said, adding, “We believe we have an exciting future in the UK and elsewhere. The Malvern House brand is certainly not going to disappear.”
AEC Education is listed on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) and disclosed that it paid close to UK£4 million (US$6.5 million) for the acquisition, which involved cash payments and shares. The school’s Managing Director, Naresh Malhotra, will join the AEC board and certain recipients of shares have agreed to retain them for a period of two years.
CEC Network in Canada folds due to lack of funds
The Canadian Education Centre (CEC) Network, which operated out of Canada with 17 offices around the world, has collapsed because of a lack of funding. At the time of going to press, there were rumours about an “angel investor” saving the Network, but these were unconfirmed. Set up originally with a government grant and a remit to promote Canadian education internationally, the CEC Network which organised an annual workshop for agents as well as education fairs in various cities failed to secure revenue to sustain its operations.
In a letter to members written in June, Joanne Uyede, President and CEO of CEC Network, explained that “the Network has aggressively attempted to bridge the financial gap created when the federal government’s funding stopped in 2005”. This was done by recruiting paying members who funded operations, which also included maintenance of a student-oriented website. However, Uyede reported that the required funds were not achieved and despite the Department for Foreign Affairs and International Trade (Dfait) offering a CAN$500,000 (US$446,420) contribution, there was no viable way of achieving the “minimum of CAN$750,000 (US$669,640) [required] for the year ending December 2009.”
Study Group launches agent website with instant booking
International education provider, Study Group, has launched a dedicated agent website which looks to provide its 3,000 partners with real-time information regarding its range of products.
The online resource, Partners, will streamline the entire admissions process by granting agents the ability to check the status of applications online. They can also access up-to-the-minute information about course availability and accommodation options in a student’s country of choice.
“Partners is a significant investment by Study Group in a dedicated agent website providing course and accommodation availability, student enrolment with immediate confirmation and offer documentation, all online,” said Michael Mangan, CIO of Study Group.
Agent, Thomas Mueller of Treff Sprachreisen in Germany commented, “We’re looking forward to having this resource at our fingertips… It is fantastic to be able to offer clients up-to-the-minute information about which courses have availability.”
LAL opens new London school
Language school chain LAL has added a new year-round school to its growing network in London, UK. At the same time, the company has announced that the Maltese school Iels, which withdrew from the LAL chain last year, is rejoining the UK-based group, meaning LAL now has schools in four countries.
LAL’s newest school is located in Twickenham, west London, and scheduled to open in January. Chris Nolan at LAL explained that it will initially operate as a second year-round site of LAL Torbay, “enabling the school to be eligible for a visa sponsor’s licence and legally accept students from non-EEA countries on student visas”.
German giant TUI buys EAC in the UK
Holiday giant, TUI Group, which owns TUI Travel PLC, has announced that TUI Travel’s Activity Sector Student Division has purchased EAC, a UK-based English language teaching operation with a string of summer centres nationwide and two year-round schools. TUI Travel owns over 200 holiday, leisure and travel brands including Thomson and First Choice Holidays. Its activity sector division also owns Real Gap Experience.
Ian Finlay, Managing Director of the division, said, “The Student Division has always sought to acquire companies that are the best in their field, market leaders delivering excellent customer service. I am delighted to include Andrew Fisher and his management team at EAC within that portfolio.”
Managing Director at EAC, Fisher, said that the acquisition would mean that EAC could continue to grow. “In addition to ongoing trade with our existing markets, we are experiencing noticeable growth from new markets, specifically Russia and Asia,” he said. “It is a great time to put our expansion plans into action.”
He said that over the next 36 months, EAC intends to expand into market areas where it presently has little coverage, as well as develop existing markets. Select acquisitions could also occur, “to complement our existing portfolio of services and products”. Fisher added that all EAC staff are staying on “to further develop the business”.
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