Tuesday, 31 January 2012

70% fall in private sector enrolments

The number of international students enrolling in private sector colleges in the UK has fallen 70% since the introduction of the latest Tier 4 restrictions, according to a new report from the thinktank CentreForum, Tier 4 tears: how government student visa controls are destroying the private HE sector.  It attributes this mostly to the loss of work-rights for international students at private colleges.  The report vastly under-reports the number of colleges which have closed as a result, mentioning only one.  By contrast, at UKCISA we know of at least thirty which have closed, affecting thousands of students, and those working in this sector expect there to be more casualties to come.  

The report highlights the tension between Home Office attempts to bring down international student numbers because of net migration targets, and BIS policy to encourage the private sector to encourage competition and reduce the cost of higher education.  According to the Independent on Sunday:

Officials at the Department for Business believe it is "only fair" to treat those private colleges who pass the tests in the same way as state-funded institutions. "There should be a level playing field," a source said, adding that good colleges had been caught up in the "collateral damage" of the Home Office eagerness to appear tough on immigration. 

It remains to be seen whether the Home Office can be persuaded to look again at work rights for the private sector (and also public sector FE, which has seen its students restricted to only ten hours work a week).  

Assuming that change will not come soon enough to help most struggling colleges, we can expect to see a continuing trend of private colleges forging closer relationships with partner universities, looking to the university to "own" the students for immigration purposes.  This adds another layer of complexity to for universities in ensuring compliance with their Tier 4 sponsor requirements.  It also underlines that with cross-sectoral partnerships widespread, the designation of an institution as "public" or "private" may become increasingly blurred.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Australia's imaginative thinking on finance

Year after year, international students tell us that finance is one of the biggest hurdles and worries in studying abroad, and the UK education sector has had to work hard to put across the message that it is competitive, and provides value for money on price.

And while other countries save money by educating their graduates abroad (either subsidised by the host country, or by the students who usually fund themselves), the UK pays the full cost of educating 99% of its students at home.  Though, at least it then tends to benefit from the skills they have gained, unlike the many developing countries who see their best qualified graduates leave, with the argument still moot as to whether they lose out via brain drain or gain, eventually, from brain circulation and remittances.

Against that background, it's interesting to see new imaginative ideas being floated in Australia, as two leading players from the HE sector, Bruce Chapman and Glenn Withers, start researching the idea of opening up the Higher Education Contributions System (HECS).  Could the system be opened up so that international students could fund their studies via HECS?  Could it be extended to enable more Australian students to study abroad?  Could it be used as a way of compensating developing countries when foreign graduates come to work in Australia?

It would be foolhardy to suggest that the new student funding system in the UK, barely in its infancy, is ready to take on challenges like this.  But it would be refreshing to see some creative thinking on issues like these.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Is the UK out of line on Post Study Work?

As the abolition of the UK's Post Study Work scheme approaches, the other main destination countries for international students are one by one increasing the ease with which international students can stay on to work.

In Australia, entitlements will range from a two-year visa for students with a Bachelor's degree to four years for those with a doctorate.

Meanwhile Germany is expected to launch the EU "Blue Card" later this year, giving international students unrestricted work rights for a year after graduating - up from the 90 days they are given at present.

International students in France are celebrating victory as the French government has relaxed stricter rules it introduced last year for international students seeking work visas.

Will the UK be able to sustain a position which is out of line with increasing numbers of its competitors?

Welcome to the UKCISA blog

This blog will bring you news, thoughts and reflections from the UK Council for International Student Affairs.  It's aimed at staff in our member institutions, but might be relevant to anyone interested in international student policy in the UK or beyond.