Mohammad Touseef looks in to the decline of the arrival of foreign students
The past 14 years have witnessed the rise and fall of independent and further Private Education Industry in United Kingdom. The reports of Quality Education Agency and Independent Schools Inspectorate have played a major role in reshaping the current immigration policy and admission criteria of UKBA and many higher education institutions in this country.
After the launch of No Work Right policy for private colleges in 2012 and tough regulations for Highly Trusted Sponsors, there have been hundreds of sponsors shut down by the UKBA in the past three years. International students especially from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Philippines are refused UK student visas in large numbers both locally and internationally. This is a rhetoric and alarming situation for international students as well as educational institutions in UK. The year 2014 has witnessed a substantial fall in international student applicants. According to Higher Education funding Council in England (HEFCE), International student numbers fell from 311,800 to 307,205 in 2013. The most notable decrease was seen in Indian and Pakistani student numbers. Student numbers from India fell from 18,535 in 2011 to 13,250 in 2013 and Pakistani students from 4,580 to 2,825. The tougher visa regulations for students would almost cost £3bn a year to UK Universities and is giving an imprint that UK is no more a welcoming destination for students. Regent’s University in London conducted a survey of more than 500 students across 105 institutions in UK in June 2014 that resulted in more than 52% students having a negative perception about UKBA’s current policies. The question is why?
Being a Senior Official of a Government College in UK, I have had the direct experience of working very closely with UKBA and other education watch dogs. The Tier 4 system of student visa in this country is no more just a point based system. It has changed once and for all. Under the current Tier 4 scheme, students face tougher questions about their background, intentions to study, financial strength, future plans, etc. Last year I was part of a UKBA visit at our College where they advised us about their new criteria and approach towards visa interviews. That included a lot of out of the box questions such as;
- The family background of students;
- Social and cultural background of students;
- Career prospects after they complete the course that they apply for;
- Tougher questions about their destination and sponsors;
- Detailed questions about their course and field of study;
- Financial strength and affordability;
- Differentiate whether applicant is a genuine student or an economic immigrant;
- English Language ability apart from the proof of proficiency that they hold;
According to UKBA, the family and social background of the students allows them to determine the genuineness of students. They have very closely observed the applicants from Pakistan and India and then developed this new strategy. I still remember one of my students who has successfully obtained visa from Pakistan. He was the son of a commercial airline pilot and had his entire education in top of the range schools and colleges in Karachi. He himself had completed a basic flying course privately and surely belonged to an elite family. A couple of visas were refused from Pakistan recently only because the students failed to satisfy the visa officers about their intentions to stay in UK after completion or coming back. The major reason was their inability to prove their economic stability and the visa officers suspected that they would support their families by working and earning in UK. On another occasion, a student from Pakistan was refused entry as he was about to study a course in Health and Social Care and was not aware of any prospects and career path for Heath Care professionals in Pakistan.
The visa interview is more of a psychological process now where the visa officers try to understand the mindset of candidates. They no more rely on the Points Based System for granting or refusing entry rather take into consideration a mix of questions and concerns that circle around the family, friends, career choice, destination information, etc.,. Regarding in country applications, UKBA is very clear in its strategy now. They consider an application genuine and complete if it fulfills the following criteria;
- The student has not changed more than 2 institutions in UK recently;
- His/her sponsor is not revoked by UKBA;
- He/she has received awarding body’s certificate and transcript as a proof of his course completion;
- His/her English proficiency is awarded by only the approved providers on UKBA list;
I attended a recent UKBA training event last month that was hosted by Eversheds in London, where few important topics came up such as;
- A large proportion of in country students try to repeat their post graduate courses by changing their career paths. For example, a student who has completed his/her Level 7 course in Business Management would obtain admission in a Level 7 course in Hospitality or Healthcare. UKBA sees this as a way to lengthen their stay in UK and no more considers such applications as candid. Students applying under such circumstances are still getting visas but UKBA definitely would soon put its foot down;
- Awarding Bodies that are not on the list of Ofqual shall be discouraged by educational institutions;
- The complete educational back ground of the candidate shall be accessed (from school to college) before making an offer of admission;
- The permissible refusal rate of institutions for Higher Trusted Sponsor Status would fall from 20% to 10%; (this would come in place from November 01, 2014)
Many Universities in UK have not welcomed these tougher regulations of UKBA. Instead several concerns have been raised by higher officials in Universities regarding drop in income and reputation of British Universities. Prof Edward Acton from University of East Anglia, Dr. Wendy Piatt from Russell Group of Leading Universities, and others have been very vocal against the current tighter visa regulations and their impact on UK Education.
One lesson has to be learnt by all who are intending to come to UK for education that UKBA would only allow genuine students and no more economic immigrants. Their check and balance system is very robust now and they almost operate like an intelligence agency. They have kept a very close eye on international students and colleges in the recent years and have established that no one is allowed to stay in this country on a student visa if they have any intention other than education.