Leader: Honest competition?

February 4, 2005

Vice-chancellors who think the answer to their financial worries lies in increasing recruitment overseas beware, there may be stiff competition for international students from unexpected quarters. Universities and colleges may find themselves jostling for space with Wormwood Scrubs, Tesco and the Archbishop of Canterbury on a new government register of "approved" education and training providers in the UK.

The thinking behind the register was simple enough: to "tackle immigration abuse in the education sector" and identify bona fide schools, colleges and universities. But it may be rather more all-embracing than intended, as it implies that overseas students keen to partake of a Prison Service education may face as few problems in securing a visa as those thinking of applying to approved British universities.

If studying at Her Majesty's pleasure has limited appeal, there are plenty of taxi firms or coffee shops on the list for international students to consider.

It remains to be seen whether the appearance of Dr Rowan Williams on the register - by virtue of an ancient right of Archbishops to confer degrees - will prompt a flood of eager applications to Lambeth Palace.

Perhaps a more refined register, more clearly categorised, might be in order to direct would-be applicants to the most appropriate setting for their study. In the meantime, vice-chancellors might like to ponder how to differentiate themselves from prisons, supermarkets and cabbies in this apparently burgeoning market for overseas recruits.

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