More work rights at private UK providers possible

08 January, 2014

A uniform regulatory policy for public and private HE providers soon to be introduced in the UK could pave the way for overseas students at independent institutions gaining part-time work rights while they study, David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science, said at the recent Study UK Conference and AGM.

Willetts also said that UK HE is working to improve access to Asian markets

At the event held for private FE and HE providers to voice their opinions, Willetts explained that this policy, aiming to put independent or alternative providers (APs) on a “level playing field” with state-funded institutions in terms of attracting overseas students, would need to be “rigorously and evenly applied” before the introduction of these work rights could take place. The regulations could also see APs gain access to funding.

The fact that students at APs are currently unable to work while studying, although those at public institutions can, was clearly a big issue for delegates – many lamented that they cannot compete with a number of regional public universities setting up campuses in London.

During an earlier discussion panel, George Shirley, Head of Sponsorship at the Home Office, explained that the rule for APs was put in place due to evidence suggesting that students at these institutions were likely to abuse the visa system. While he said that there are currently no plans to investigate this evidence again, he agreed that the new regulatory policy could lead to the introduction of work rights at APs.

Willetts also outlined during his speech thatstudent number controls for domestic and EU students are to be enforced at APs in 2014/15, because “a surge in spending on maintenance loans presented us with fiscal challenges” – the number of UK/EU claiming financial support in 2012/13 rose significantly. This cap will be dropped in 2015/16 if APs freely provide information.

A common view among the delegation, which Alice Sachrajda, Qualitative Research Fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), raised during the discussion panel, was that the Department for Business Innovation and Skills’ (BIS) policy to grow incoming international student numbers (and thus increase the value of the UK’s education exports) and tightened visa policies such as the removal of post-study work rights are incompatible. One of her suggestions were that post-study work rights should be available for six months after graduation, and extended for MBA and STEM students.

Shirley was insistent that current visa policies will remain and that the BIS and the Home Office are delivering the same message that the UK wants to attract genuine students, but added that the Home Office is putting a “greater focus on putting customers first”. Efforts include the introduction of a “friendlier” UKTI website and uniform for Home Office officials, and he also mentioned that 2012’s visa processing time of 16 weeks is now a lot shorter.

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