The latest data on Tier 4 visas – issued this week by the Office of National Statistics – shows that in the year to March 2013, there were 206,814 visas issued for the purpose of study, which represents a fall of 9% compared with the previous 12 months. There was also a 10% fall for sponsored student visa applications to 207,751 in the year ending March 2013.
It was revealed that Tier 4 tuition fees for FE stakeholders had declined by 21% (value approx. £11m)
Not all sectors were affected equally, however, with a 5% increase for the university sector noted and falls of 46%, 46% and 7% respectively for the FE sector (tertiary, further education or other colleges), English language schools and independent schools.
The Student Visitor Visa (SVV) route – for courses of six months – is not counted in these long-term migration statistics, so the news is not quite as bad as indicated. Language schools in particular receive most of their student cohort on SVVs and Extended SVVs (ESVV) which last up to 11 months. These channels mandate students must return home rather than transferring on to another course of study and no work rights are permissible.
In addition, English UK claims that one of the reasons for the increase of 5 per cent in university numbers is the growing trend for pre-sessional English for Academic Purposes (EAP) and similar courses to be rolled in with longer university programmes (thus offered on a university sponsored visa), despite the course itself being taught by private providers working with the uni.
However, for the FE sector, whose members often offer long-term courses that cannot be catered to via ESVV channels, the news comes as further evidence that it is financially suffering from tighter visa rules applied to the FE sector. In a recent survey undertaken by the government’s business department, BIS, it was revealed that Tier 4 tuition fees for FE stakeholders had declined by 21% (value approx. £11,066,000) from 2010/11 to 2011/12.
Unlike students studying at HEIs (higher education institutions) on Tier 4 visas who can work for 20 hours per week, those at FE colleges are able to work only 10 hours per week. They are also unable to assess student’s English language level themselves.
“Huge falls of 46 per cent in applications to FE colleges and English language schools create a worrying picture”
Gina Hobson, Chief Executive of the British Accreditation Council (BAC), said, “From BAC’s perspective, it’s very concerning to see a decline of approaching 50% in the Tier 4 visas issued by the FE sector, which includes independent colleges of further and higher education. These independent providers all now undergo review akin to the publicly funded institutions, yet their students aren’t afforded the same rights as those studying in HEIs and hence it’s proved very difficult for independent providers to compete.
Hobson confirmed that a mix of programmes is offered within FE institutions represented by BAC, including degrees validated by UK universities and preparation and foundation programmes preparing students to enter university.
“Hence, in addition to the damage being done to the independent sector, one must wonder whether the valuable feeder pipeline of international students progressing on to a UK university is also being seriously compromised.”
At the British Council, Dr Jo Beall, Director Education and Society, also commented on the latest figures. “Although it is positive to see a five per cent rise in applications to the UK’s universities, the huge falls of 46 per cent in applications to FE colleges and English language schools create a worrying picture,” she said. “Many students use these courses as a step towards applying to our universities, so it presents a long-term risk if we diminish what was a big recruitment pool of students who had already chosen to study in the UK.”