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UK colleges: non-EU work rights to be axed; PSW squeezed

Tighter rules for the UK’s FE sector have been confirmed, with all part-time work rights for non-EU students studying at publicly funded colleges to be scrapped, while college-enrolled students will also have no possibility of applying for a work visa while in the UK, the Home Office has confirmed.

International students already find it tough to find a job and an employer happy to sponsor them. Soon, students at FE colleges will have to apply from their home country. Photo: The PIE News session at Going GlobalInternational students already find it tough to find a job and an employer happy to sponsor them. Soon, students at FE colleges will have to apply from their home country. Photo: The PIE News session at Going Global

"In blocking the route from further education to university, the government will do long-term harm to the UK"

Current part-time work rights that allow students to work up to 10 hours a week will be axed entirely, while students will be unable to extend their studies unless their college has a formal link to a university.

Study visas at FE level will also become valid a maximum of two years rather than three.

James Brokenshire, immigration minister, said: “Hard-working taxpayers who are helping to pay for publicly funded colleges expect them to be providing top-class education, not a back door to a British work visa.”

The changes are being made after Home Office officials reportedly detected early signs of increased fraud at some publicly-funded colleges and discovered immigration advisers advertising college visas as a means to work in the UK.

Brokenshire said, “Our reforms – which include introducing English language testing, removing sponsorship rights from hundreds of bogus colleges, and restricting students’ access to the jobs market – are all part of our plan to control immigration for the benefit of Britain.”

The new rules were in a Written Statement submitted by Brokenshire on 13 July. Work rights restrictions will be enforced from August, with the other changes to be implemented in the autumn.

The news is an electric shock for the UK’s FE sector which already feels beleaguered, as we reported last month.

“The sector is keen to see any evidence that it is being used as a ‘back door for bogus students”

Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said “The government risks seriously restricting the UK’s ability to attract international students”.

He pointed out that “preventing international FE students continuing to study in the UK after they have finished their studies will limit the progression of students from colleges to universities”.

“Colleges have well-established and stringent attendance monitoring systems in place to mitigate against any potential abuse and the sector is keen to see any evidence that it is being used as a ‘back door for bogus students,” he said.

“In blocking the route from further education to university, the government will do long-term harm to the UK as an international student destination and this policy needs urgent reconsideration.”

An anonymous source, speaking with The PIE News last week, indicated that changes to immigration policy are happening faster and quicker than ever before since Prime Minister, David Cameron, himself took personal charge of an immigration taskforce.

At ExEdUK, Chairman Graham Able slammed the move. “Once again the Home Office has announced new rules for international students without proper consultation or apparent concern for the devastating impact they will have on colleges and universities across the UK.”

He added, “These rules will place impossible obstacles in the path of international students hoping to progress through sixth form and FE into UK higher education, and will drive them by their thousands into the open arms of our global competitors.”

“International education is not a ‘back door’. For a host country, it’s the smartest front door in the world”

Stakeholders in other countries were quick to see that the UK’s move could aid their own education exports. One commentator in Canada tweeted, “International education is not a ‘back door’. For a host country, it’s the smartest front door in the world.”

Theresa May had previously advocated for this PSW policy in December before the plans were scrapped, reportedly at the behest of colleagues in the Conservative party worried about the impact on the export economy.

Despite the Daily Mail reporting the changes would hit all non-EU students, in fact, the government is targeting only those at FE level, which includes many diploma-level courses and pathway courses offering alternative routes to entry to UK HE.

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