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UKCISA urges positive position for UK

Prominent members of the UK Council for International Student Affairs have called for a positive new vision for UK international education after a year dominated by student immigration concerns. Meanwhile, UKBA has revealed it is piloting a “premium” visa high-speed service.

Members used the three-day conference to try and better understand burdensome immigration regulationsMembers used the three-day conference to try and better understand burdensome immigration regulations

“Your mission is about giving students a fantastic international experience”

Speaking this week at the body’s annual conference, president of UKCISA – the UK’s leading body representing university internationalisation – Baroness Usha Prashar, said: “We need to move the debate on, to look to be more proactive instead or reactive, to create a new vision or narrative for international education in our work to change opinion.”

Dominic Scott OBE, chief executive of the organisation, agreed. He told the 400 UKCISA delegates, who work in welfare, admissions and strategy in international offices across the UK, that they were not meant to be “immigration advisors”. “Your mission should be about giving students a fantastic international experience,” he said.

Scott told UKCISA members that their role was not meant to be as "immigration advisers"

The comments come after a tough year for universities due to “the largest changes to immigration rules for a decade”.

Scott said the new rules had particularly hit the private college sector, with est. 3,000 students suffering visa-related college closures with little or no fee protection.

UKBA gave details of a “premium” service it was piloting for 150 universities

“The public sector have suffered to a degree; public private partnerships such as INTO University Partnerships and Kaplan have broadly retained their position. But a subset of private colleges have really suffered,” he said.

He bemoaned a lack of leadership on international education and Prashar suggested Universities UK – the natural mouthpiece for the sector – could do more. Both called for more cohesion between politicians and pressure groups, and for a cross-party parliamentary group on international education. Scott said major private HE providers might offer funding.

Immigration was a prominent theme at the three-day conference. There were a series of well attended sessions run by UKBA – the subject of much criticism from attending admissions officers.

University of Warwick provided the venue for the conference

In his session on Tier 4 compliance, George Shirley, UKBA’s assistant director of points based sponsorship, admitted “there was healthy skepticism” over the agency’s ability to deliver after “inordinate delays” in processing visas.

However, he said the agency had faced considerable funding cuts. He also gave details of a “premium” service UKBA was piloting for 150 universities, which promises to speed up processing (although at likely extra cost to universities).

UKBA admitted there was “healthy skepticism” over its ability to deliver

Fauzia Dean, project officer of UKBA International Group, showed that while the agency had so far issued fewer visas this year than last – 271,100 to 310,100 – it had also refused fewer, turning down 40,200 as opposed to 70,900.

Other sessions focused on the student experience, welfare, compliance, integration on campus, social media and international student career advice. Prashar praised the hard work of UKCISA delegates.

“You do much to help public opinion and you have allies in the public policy field. We can rely on your case studies and experiences, which we can use to inform policy,” she said.

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