From education to employment

Highly trusted sponsor – a college response

Colleges are fundamentally committed to being effective student immigration sponsors and in return all they expect from The United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA) is a fair, well administered and effective system that is conducted in a true spirit of partnership.

The Association of Colleges (AoC) and FE Colleges have always welcomed a student immigration system that protects genuine providers and genuine students from bogus operators . We were pleased to see the assurances from UKBA as it was being established, which aspired to a Highly Trusted Status (HTS) system that looked to protect quality providers and allow them to continue to offer world class  programmes while working in partnership with UKBA. However, the reaction from the FE College sector shows, for many,  the experience of working as an HTS has been far removed from the partnership model we were promised.

Colleges are growing increasingly frustrated and concerned at trying to navigate through a changeable legislative environment which can see sponsors judged on criteria that didn’t exist when decisions about student applications were made. They are also growing weary of the time and resources required to monitor and manage the changing rules, and the inconsistencies in UKBA’s decisions.

One of the core principles that underpinned HTS was the promise of better communication and partnership between the sponsor and the UKBA. Instead we have seen sponsors having HTS removed without prior warning or conversation, and the much heralded holistic, case by case approach, promised by UKBA, has seemingly been completely ignored.

FE Colleges are simply seeking fair and equal treatment with universities.

Universities are allowed to administer their own language tests to ascertain a students’ ability to study and students studying at a University are permitted to spend more time working during their course.

In broader terms, we should remember the effect the UK’s stance on student immigration is having on our international partners and students. The complexities and inconsistencies of the student visa route causes international students to think twice before applying to the UK, especially as countries such as America, Australia and Canada, our major competitors, are looking to make their immigration requirements less draconian. America and Australia do not count students in their net migration figures while Canada has set up a joint team with colleges and their border agency.

In the face of this difficult system and disparate treatment colleges face potentially uncertain futures. The ramifications for a college that loses its HTS status are extremely serious and can take away years of hard work in a stroke. The stakes are high not only for students’ education and life experience but also for colleges’ incomes, jobs and reputations.

With all these factors in mind a properly run and transparent system shouldn’t be too much to ask for. Colleges are more than happy to engage with the systems laid out for them and will continue to do so but when those systems are changeable and often opaque this becomes a very tall order.

John Mountford is international director of the Association of Colleges (AoC)


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