John Mountford, international director of the Association of Colleges (AoC), responds to government plans to slash student visas issued to non-EU nationals by a quarter as part of a crackdown on so-called “bogus students”.
“We welcome the Government’s focus on provider quality. AoC has lobbied for an approach that fully utilises the Highly Trusted Sponsor (HTS) status, which is held by so many of our member Colleges. We are pleased that this has resulted in our members continuing to be allowed to recruit international students onto highly specialised level three courses; these students, in turn, enrich our campuses for financial, cultural and educational reasons and many progress on to university courses. We also feel that it is appropriate that all providers will now be required to be highly trusted sponsors if they are recruiting international students.
“We hope that the more robust accreditation system for the private sector will continue to differentiate good practice from poor provision and drive out bogus providers, which will protect genuine students and genuine providers. However, we need more clarification about how this accreditation system will work.
“While supporting the focus on the HTS, we would also like some assurance that our members who don’t currently hold this status will be allowed a fair opportunity to reach it in future. We look forward to an ongoing dialogue with the UK Border Agency on how they administer HTS, especially based on the short time-frame for the introduction of this legislation.
“We are pleased that the English language requirements for students studying on pre-university programmes has remained at the current level. If UKBA staff are to play a more proactive role in assessing a student’s English we hope they are given the necessary training and support to ensure that they’re making sensitive and informed judgments on a student’s language ability.
“AoC hopes the Home Office reconsiders its decision to place further restrictions on work placements for non-university students. Colleges run high level, highly specialised vocational programmes. By definition the work element of these courses is an essential ingredient and we can’t fathom the logic behind giving extra rights solely to Higher Education providers and not to other highly trusted sponsors.
“As the Home Office is reviewing the suitability of the Post Study Work visa route, we hope that there is some acknowledgment of the fact that highly skilled workers (e.g. air traffic controllers, fishery experts or engineers) also qualify via vocational qualifications.”
John Mountford is international director of the Association of Colleges (AoC)