By Matthew Knott, News Editor of StudyTravel Magazine

Anybody that was in the UK over the last few days will be forgiven for wondering what the repeated dull, thudding noise they could hear was; it was the sound of the international education industry collectively banging its head against a brick wall!

Indeed, a similar sound may have been audible in and around some study travel agency offices around the world, as once again the UK government has intervened in the sector in a most unwelcome manner.

It all started over the weekend with a television interview with the Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, in which he called for non-EU students to leave the country as soon as courses are completed. It is worth reiterating that was not an immigration official, but the Business Secretary, whose remit is to increase business. His department is theoretically pursuing an international education growth strategy!

Then came actual solid policy changes from the Immigration Minister, which impact heavily on non-EU students in the publicly funded FE college sector. Non-EU students at FE colleges will have study visas limited to two years, will not be able to extend a student visa within the UK, and will not be eligible to work part-time during courses or apply to switch to a work visa.

The two stories got conflated in both the national and international media, so it is worth clarifying that the new rules affect students at FE colleges only; there is no change for university students. This was confirmed to STM by the Home Office, but several media reports I have seen failed to clarify this very important point.

Nonetheless, the FE college sector is apoplectic, demanding to see evidence of any alleged wrongdoing and calling on the government to backtrack. The specific victimisation of one sector – and a state-run sector at that – is certainly perplexing, and it ignores the interconnectedness of the international education industry.

The FE sector is relatively small compared to higher education, but nonetheless this sends a strong message about the government’s intentions in pursuing reduced migration. It simply cannot achieve that without reducing the number of international students, unless it caves into industry demands for students to be taken out of the migration data. That prospect seems unlikelier than ever right now.

It was the lack of industry consultation that irked many within the FE sector, and a similar theme is covered in a communique issued by the Global Alliance of Education and Language Associations (Gaela) in support of South Africa’s ELT industry.

The communique laments the lack of government communication with stakeholders and urges the relevant ministries to sit down with Education South Africa and discuss the damage that new visa regulations are causing. The lack of consultation is alarming, but it is at least pleasing to see the global industry standing square behind one of its members.

More promisingly on the government relation front, Australia’s Education Minister, Christopher Pyne, has just released a new draft of the Education Services for Overseas Students (ESOS) Act, aiming to cut red tape and regulatory burden for providers. Furthermore, he reached out to the industry for collaboration: “That’s why we are releasing the Bills and seeking further advice from stakeholders. We are determined to get the policy settings right,” said Pyne.

And also on the working together theme, there was a lovely story from Ecuador this week, where a new school has been opened in the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest and is being jointly promoted by members of the country’s association of Spanish language schools AECEE.  

Until next week, when hopefully there is no more head banging to report!




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