By Matthew Knott, News Editor of Study Travel Magazine

With the long Easter weekend in the UK, it seems like the last couple of weeks have flown past, but nonetheless there has been a raft of interesting developments we have reported on.

Just before the Easter break came the announcement that the Toefl and Toeic exams would no longer be accepted by the UK Home Office as evidence of English language proficiency in visa applications.

The exams, administered by ETS, had been suspended inside the UK since a BBC documentary broadcast in February uncovered evidence of fraud at two Toeic test centres. Nonetheless, this latest move comes as something of a surprise, given how long established and widely recognised Toefl is.

Although UK visa policy has been stable for a couple of years, it does seem the UK government likes to flex its immigration muscles every once in a while, as evidenced by the temporary reprimand of London Met University last year. In actual fact, the ETS contract expired on April 5, and the company itself took the voluntary decision not to reapply, although this could have been a case of jumping before pushed.

It is worth noting that UK universities can continue to use Toefl for their own admission procedures, and it was highlighted by both parties that the problems uncovered were related to the Toeic exam, not Toefl.

Recently, Japan released its higher education international student recruitment data for 2013, showing the third consecutive year of falls. A simplistic analysis would conclude that these declines coincide with the 2011 tsunami, but in truth the high Japanese yen and territorial disputes and political spats with China (by far the largest recruitment market) are likely to have had much greater effect.

The decline looks like a salutary lesson for the many Asian nations with ambitious international student recruitment plans – Japan is aiming for 300,000 by 2020 – but it is worth recalling that the 2013 figure is only 6,000 below the 2010 peak of 141,774, and more than double the total in 2000, proving that substantial growth is achievable. There was also a 35 per cent increase in students at Japanese language institutes, suggesting a return to higher education growth may arrive next year.

In truth, Japan has probably gone as far as it can as things currently stand, a solid achievement given that the language is unique to this country. There are widespread plans to greatly increase the number of English language programmes, which will certainly help to diversify the student body. More openly embracing agents would also help to push Japan as a study option.

Also this week, we reported on Studioitalia’s plans to open a second Italian language school in Milan Fabio Boccio, Director of Studioitalia in Rome, commented that winning the Study Travel Magazine Star Award in 2013 had increased interest from agents and demand for courses.

Boccio captured the essence of what the Study Travel Magazine Star Awards is all about and what makes it unique: endorsement from industry peers and partners. And this leads on to a timely reminder that there are only a couple of weeks of voting left for the 2014 Study Travel Magazine Star Awards. If you haven’t voted yet, now is the time!

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