By Matthew Knott, News Editor of Study Travel Magazine

In this column I often refer to the dynamism of the study travel industry, but this week has been a particularly breathless one on the news desk!

On Monday morning, we learned that the BBC was about to broadcast an undercover investigation into student visa and test centre fraud in the UK. The footage was certainly pretty damning, exposing cheating at one test centre in which every member of staff and student seemed complicit.

A concern with the programme was the usage of the word “agent”. The programme investigated in-country immigration consultants, not study travel agents. I fear the mainstream media will not be as careful with the distinction as I just have been.

The BBC claimed they had proved fraud was “rife” in the system. It didn’t, it exposed a couple of rogue immigration consultants and test centres. There may well be more, most likely are, but “rife” was a sensationalist turn of phrase.

What was clear was that ETS needs to be a little more vigilant in its selection and oversight of test centres for Toeic and Toefl. At present, these two tests are suspended in the UK, although it should be made clear that student visa applications from outside the UK with these certificates will proceed as normal.

Then yesterday, I discovered that Citizenship and Immigration Canada had published final details of the new arrangements for the International Student Program. Now Canada will have a requirement that students study at an accredited school and visa issuance will be linked to genuine study, and these changes will be broadly welcomed, as will the enhanced work rights for students.

There is, though, bound to be some confusion now as the individual provinces work at different paces in drawing up their lists of designates institutions, with the new rules coming into effect on June 1.

And a disappointing aspect is that language students will not be eligible for work rights, threatening the work/study programmes offered by many providers. Gonzalo Peralta, Language Canada Executive Director, was astounded by the classification of language as non-academic, but promises the association will continue to lobby the government and explore other routes for offering such programmes.

A point Peralta highlighted was that all applications received before June 1 will be considered under the current arrangements, so agents with clients looking for such programmes would be wise to get applications in soon.

All of this has diverted from my original plan to talk about some excellent presentations from English UK and British Council I attended last week, including a most informative talk on how integral agents are in the Colombian outbound market. See the news report for further details of this.

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