-- Stricter UK Visa Rules Put Some Colleges in Bind ~ Travel and Immigration 101

Monday, August 29, 2011

Stricter UK Visa Rules Put Some Colleges in Bind

Less than six months after the British government announced tighter restrictions on UK student visas, at least one university has said it is being forced to close one of its campuses as a result of the new regulations. Schiller International University, which is based in Florida and has four other international campuses, is closing its London campus and will not start its autumn semester, which was to begin on Tuesday, officials said last week.
The university would not provide enrollment figures but said 80 to 85 percent of its students were from non-European Union countries, which means that they required visas to study in Britain. A person who answered the main office phone at Schiller’s London campus said about 35 students enrolled there last year. “The decision to close our London campus was directly related to the new UK immigration rules,” William Moore, executive vice president of the university, said in an e-mail.

The university, founded in 1964, offers degrees in business, economics and tourism, with the London campus located in the borough of Southwark. The other campuses are in Largo, Florida; Heidelberg, Germany; Madrid; and Paris. The new visa rules were announced in a speech to Parliament in March by Home Secretary Theresa May, in which she said the government was “cracking down on bogus colleges” and “bogus students.” The first of the changes went into effect in April, with more restrictions to be imposed through April 2012.

Reducing immigration has been a major policy issue for David Cameron’s Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government since it came to power in 2010. In a speech made in September of that year, Immigration Minister Damian Green said that although Britain benefited from immigration, “unsustainable levels of net migration seen in recent years must be brought down.”

But the British Home Office subsequently released a report in June saying that the British economy stood to lose £1.3 billion to £3.6 billion, or $2.1 billion to $5.8 billion, over the next four years, largely as a result of lost productivity from foreign students, graduates and their dependents. Universities also stand to lose £170 million from tuition fees, while the UK Border Agency would lose £160 million in visa processing fees, the report said.

A spokeswoman for the UK Border Agency, which is responsible for carrying out the government’s immigration policy, said in a statement that the estimate focused only on student and graduate jobs, which could be filled by British workers, and explained the need for visa reform.

“A significant proportion of the impact is due to less work being done by students, poststudy workers, and their dependants,” said the spokeswoman, who declined to give her name, following agency policy. “This is a worse-case scenario dependent on this work not being filled by the U.K. labor market.”

“The old student visa regime,” she added, “was open to widespread abuse and failed to protect legitimate students from being exploited by poor quality colleges.” Gina Hobson, chief executive of the British Accreditation Council, an independent accreditation body for independent colleges, said the changes could have an effect the institutions in the future. “We’re aware of a couple of other institutions that have decided that it’s no longer viable to run,” she said this month in a telephone interview.

“Given the impact the immigration policies will have on the sector, I expect to see further closures in the private education sector, which may include institutions with partnerships with U.K. universities,” Ms. Hobson said. Under the new, more stringent framework of “educational oversight,” all higher education institutions will be required to obtain so-called Highly Trusted Sponsor status from a much smaller list of official accreditation bodies before they can sponsor prospective foreign students for their visa applications.

Highly Trusted Sponsor status requires institutions to satisfy criteria like minimum enrollment rates and course completion rates, as well as being subject to periodic inspections by the British Home Office. The British Accreditation Council is one of several independent bodies that will lose their power to accredit higher education institutions. Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, a body representing Britain’s public universities, said the further impact would be unclear.

“It remains to be seen what long-term impact these changes will have on the numbers of international students applying to come to study at U.K. universities,” she said this month in a statement. According to the British Home Office, the education industry is worth £40 billion annually to the British economy, of which international students contribute £12.5 billion. In 2010, a total of 334,815 student visas were issued by the British government, but the British Home Office has predicted that the new measures will result in 67,000 fewer per year.


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