By Matthew Knott, News Editor of Study Travel Magazine

As the issue of UK institutions being suspended from Highly Trusted Sponsor (HTS) status rumbles on, in today’s news update we bring a touch of agency perspective to the issue.

Firstly, we report that one university has been cleared to resume recruitment of non-EU students after an audit by UK Visa and Immigration. But a Home Office Spokesperson confirmed to us that this was so far the solitary exception and that the other suspensions currently remain in place.

The investigation was launched by the Home Office following a BBC documentary programme that exposed evidence of fraud at UK-based Toeic testing centres. Subsequent data provided to the Home Office by ETS, which administers the Toeic exam, revealed some 29,000 test certificates were invalid.

It is worth remembering at this point that these were all tests taken inside the UK and may have been for a variety of visa purposes; use of Toeic as evidence of language proficiency by international students is relatively minor in the UK.

And as Gokhan Islamoglu, Coordinator of Turkish agency association UED points out in the news story, this is an area where agents add a layer of security. He asserts that member agencies are always vigilant in assessing a student’s appropriateness for the course they wish to apply for, including of course language competence. Moreover, agencies keenly support the embassy and consulate in their vigilance of locally administered exams, he said.

He also added that the issue was unlikely to greatly diminish promotion of the UK by agents in the Turkish market or student demand for the country, which is generally the most popular destination for Turkish students, according to STM’s Turkey agency surveys and UED’s annual member surveys.

Brazilian agency Belta, meanwhile, expressed the view that on one level at least, member agencies are reassured to know that the UK government is being rigorous in its supervision of test centre and English exams. However, the issue creates a degree of uncertainty in the mind of students already in, or planning to soon enter, the UK, the spokesperson said. Through either reinstatement or revocation, a swift government response would provide some clarity.

In a related issue, the UK has also announced that the visa refusal threshold that HTS institutions must operate within will be reduced from 20 per cent to 10 per cent in November.

The Home Office has promised “discretion” in its appraisal of institutions recruiting less than 50 non-EU students per year, and the schools that fall within that category will indeed be hoping for flexibility: three failed visa applications out of 20 students it has sponsored would leave a college technically in breach of its HTS criteria.

Given that refusals can often be down to simple administrative or documentation errors by students, this is another example of the value of the agency service in guiding students through the process and the added reassurance that will provide to partner schools.

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