Since 2011, the government has only allowed operators in England and Wales to recruit non-EEA students on Tier 4 visas (for study periods over 12 months) if they have ISI accreditation. Schools can still use Accreditation UK – which is administered by the British Council and English UK – but only for recruiting students on shorter term visas.
“It is legalised extortion. Accreditation UK is better and more rigorous than ISI at a fraction of the cost”
However, a comparative study from English UK has found that Accreditation UK may well be the superior benchmark.
“The differences are extreme enough that a centre could easily fail an Accreditation UK inspection and pass one from the ISI,” said Tony Millns, CEO of English UK.
English UK, which represents 450 schools, looked at a random sample of 36 ISI inspection reports on providers also inspected by Accreditation UK in January. It found that on average ISI gave marks that were 52% higher than those given by Accreditation UK.
The tone of the reports was also compared, with nearly 75% of ISI reports found to be ‘more’ or ‘much more’ positive than those of Accreditation UK. No cases were recorded where ISI was more critical than Accreditation UK.
In addition, ISI’s costs and annual fees are more than three times higher than Accreditation UK’s – something that has deterred some language schools from even applying for Tier 4 accreditation.
“It is legalised extortion,” said Millns. “Accreditation UK is better and more rigorous than ISI at a fraction of the cost – why shouldn’t it be an accrediting body for T4?”
The Home Office pared back the number of accreditation bodies it used after a UK Border Agency study, published December 2010, found that 26% of those at privately funded colleges and 14% of those at English language schools were potentially non-compliant with the terms of their visa. This compared to just 2% at universities and independent schools.
The only approved accreditation bodies left were those already playing a role in the statutory regulation of education: Ofsted, the Quality Assurance Agency, ISI, plus six smaller specialist bodies.
No cases were recorded where ISI was more critical than Accreditation UK
A Home Office spokesperson told The PIE News: “These arrangements have raised educational standards across the sector, rooted out abuse and improved the reputation of British education overseas. We have no plans to change these arrangements.”
However, English UK said that claims ISI had cleaned up the sector were misleading. Citing a survey of non-accredited private language schools carried out over a decade, it said that from an original source of 560 schools, nearly half had gone out of business by early 2012 – soon after ISI became the sole Tier 4 accreditation body for the sector.
Most of the remainder either gained some form of accreditation or chose to accept EU students only, ruling out the possibility of visa fraud. “This success can’t be attributed to the ISI as these inspections were only just starting at the time of our findings,” said Millns.