Willetts addressed the 120-strong crowd (representing the independent and private education sector) and noted the damage bogus colleges have done to the sector, but said he was eager to see private education survive and welcomed Study UK as the voice of the industry.
A common theme throughout the day-long event was the need to level the playing field between independent and public institutions. Due to cases of fraudulent practices in the the sector, independent colleges find themselves subject to harsher visa requirements and accreditation standards.
Bharat Pamnani, Assistant Director of UK Border Agency (UKBA) explained to delegates that a limited pilot for a Premium Account Management Service was launched in July this year and would run until March 2013.
The service will offer improved communications with the UKBA via an individual account manager, student visa eligibility checks, priority treatment on post-licence requests and sponsor training workshops on Tier 4 work. After reviewing feedback from the pilot project, the service is expected to be rolled out to be available to all sponsors by July 2013. Pamnani said a price has not yet been confirmed but will be between £8,000 and £15,000 per year as an augmented licence fee.
The response from delegates was not immediately positive. “I think everyone should have the service as a matter of course considering the amount of money we pay to the UKBA and it’s what we were promised as highly trusted sponsors,” Sue Hoof, director of accreditations and compliance at LSBF said.
“I think everyone should have the service as a matter of course considering the amount of money we pay”
Hoof is concerned that service will “deteriorate even more for the ones who don’t choose to take the service” and adds that the possible £8,000 fee is expensive for those who only issue a small number of confirmation of acceptance for studies (CAS). “At a minimum amount of £8,000 for a small institution, when divided by 500 CAS for example, it adds a considerable charge per student on top of the CAS fee,” she said.
Pamnani at the event
Pamnani also announced at the conference that a limited introduction of online visa application submission within the UK would be introduced in early 2013 with the intention of full implementation by spring. However, the service will only be available to in-country applications.
Also on the day’s bill were presentations from representatives of the sector’s quality assurance bodies, QAA and ISI as well as a panel discussion focusing on government policy and international students with Alice Schrajda, researcher at IPPR, Dominic Scott, chief executive of UK Council for International Students, Daniel Stevens, international students officer of NUS and Pat Saini, partner at Penningtons Solicitors.
Founded in 2007, Study UK is the official membership association for accredited independent colleges of further and higher education in the UK. “We want Study UK to be the first port of call for the independent education sector. Our name is getting more recognition,” said Alex Proudfoot, the association’s manager.
“”Next year we will be announcing public positions from Study UK on every issue important to our sector, because it’s now time for us to implement our full communications strategy. We want to make sure that Study UK’s voice is heard and taken heed of.”