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BUILA event leverages opportunity for UK HE

UCAS, Universities UK and the British Council were among the organisations that delivered insightful sessions to delegates at the British Universities International Liaison Association (BUILAconference in Edinburgh, Scotland, last week. Faced with a difficult operational backdrop, the sector was cheered to learn of activities behind-the-scenes from sector associations focused on improving conditions for UK HEIs, and to attend sessions on the market potential of emerging student source countries.

Jo Attwool of UUK revealed she had sat in on credibility interviews that UKBA is now operating

British Council Indonesia is working towards an objective to get 2600 Indonesians studying in the UK by 2015

Indonesia, Iraq and Libya all present opportunity but only for those willing to understand their idiosyncrasies, delegates heard. As British Council Director for Libya, Cherry Gough, explained, Iraq and Libya were more like her home of Sicily than Saudi Arabia.

“Most people in the Libyan government have studied in the UK,” she counselled, pointing out that there was significant appetite for UK education and a scholarship scheme which could yield up to 3,000 participants for UK institutions — most of whom will also need preparatory English.

In Iraq, meanwhile, the UK is estimated to cater to 28% of the outbound international student market. Two directors of the British Universities Iraq Consortium (BUIC) revealed their extensive knowledge and experience of the market, which is also buoyed by a number of scholarship schemes. Director of BUIC, Wendy Jordan, also revealed that 92% of Iraqis in the UK were currently at BUIC member institutions.

Indonesia represents significant opportunity, too, and the UK should consider Australia as its chief competitor in the market, said the British Council’s director in situ, Steve Buckle. He made some interesting comments on rankings in his seminar, suggesting that promoting the UK’s universal high standards could be a better tactic than trying to stand out within a rankings system.

Jo Attwool, Immigration Policy Adviser at Universities UK, rose to the challenge of delivering a presentation called “Tier 4 play”

British Council Indonesia is also working towards an objective to get 2,600 Indonesians studying in the UK by 2015.

There were also great presentations from those with experience closer to home. Jo Attwool, Immigration Policy Adviser at Universities UK, delivered a session called “Tier 4 Play”, moving on from a slide cheekily entitled “50 shades of [Theresa] May” (in ode to Britain’s immigration-wary Home Secretary) to divulge important details about the government’s new credibility interviews of student visa applicants, having sat in on a few of them.

She observed that video interviews (conducted from a Sheffield business park) were not recorded and able to be viewed again, so the notes made at the time were the only permanent evidence retained from them. These were then passed on to the border official tasked with making the final decision on a visa application. On the plus side, the interviews were not aggressive in tone or asking anything awkward.

John Withrington and Wendy Jordan of BUIC presented on opportunities in Iraq

John Withrington and Wendy Jordan of BUIC presented on opportunities in Iraq

Attwooll rattled through other current concerns such as visa bonds, the potential health levy on international students, a consultation over landlords being expected to ascertain the immigration status of tenants, and the restructuring of the UK Border Agency into two new departments (“an opportunity to get some positive change around service standards”).

She also highlighted interesting conversations happening between government and the sector about tuition assurance, or perhaps an International Student “Concordat”; and plans for a domestic campaign to try and foster appreciation at home for the value of the international education sector.

In another session, the UK’s undergraduate application service, UCAS, unveiled its own plans for a new international strategy. Currently consulting with the sector, it plans to make changes that better serve internationally-active members, such as enabling foundation courses to be booked via the UCAS system and better interaction between education agencies and the UCAS portal.

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