By Matthew Knott, News Editor of StudyTravel Magazine

Two different news stories this week provide a neat snapshot of the contrasting governmental attitudes towards international education in the UK and Australia.

Firstly, concerns are starting to build over the UK’s new Secure English Language Test (SELT) system. Under the new rules introduced in April, any student applying for a Tier 4 student visa for study below degree level will need an Ielts certificate from a UK-approved test centre, of which there are only around 200 worldwide.

Agents and pathway providers told StudyTravel Magazine that they are worried about the capacity ahead of the peak season, and agencies in the key recruitment market of China are particularly frustrated. Agency association Bossa has lobbied for Beijing to have more than one test centre, to no avail.

James Pitman, Managing Director of Higher Education (UK and Europe) at pathway provider Study Group, lamented the lack of industry consultation before the new regulations were announced and the timing of the new regime. Pleasingly the ‘G5’ consortium of major pathway providers have been voluntarily clubbing together to provide detailed forecasts on anticipated demand to the British Council, but it would have been sensible for the Home Office to have asked for this beforehand.

Given that fraud was uncovered in the testing system in the UK, a toughened response was understandable – although it is worth noting that the fraud mostly related to the Toeic exam, now no longer eligible, and took place inside the UK.

It would seem that the UK Home Office has sought to protect the university sector with the new rules in as much as degree-level applicants don’t need an approved test, but in doing so it has underestimated just how many university students are first filtered through the pathway/foundation system – almost all applicants from some markets in the Middle East, as one agent told us.

Just last week the new Minister of State for Universities and Science in the UK, a former international student himself, addressed the British Council Going Global conference with some platitudes and words of encouragement for the sector. But delegates knew this was pretty meaningless if the Home Office isn’t singing from the same page.

Contrast this, then, with Australia which has just announced the shape of its Coordinating Council for International Education – a steering committee for the country’s recently announced international education strategy. The council includes the CEOs of the industry peak bodies such as English Australia and ministers of all the portfolios that impact on international education. In other words,  immigration, education, foreign affairs ministries and the study travel industry gathered together to formalise policy.

Such a joined up approach to international education exports won’t necessarily guarantee success, but all parties pulling in the same direction certainly helps.



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