Stick to scholarship

August 16, 2012

You recently highlighted how 130 gifted Brazilian science students have been pushed into the arms of US universities by the UK Border Agency's English-language requirements ("Brazil's brightest head to US after failing UK language test", 2 August). This is an alarming example of what happens when you leave student selection to border officials.

The UKBA recently suggested that it could turn away a lot more students if it were to interview each and every one. But it did not explain what qualifications the officials who would carry out such tests would have: we wonder how an agency that is so underresourced that its staff felt the need to strike on the verge of the London 2012 Olympics can possibly dedicate adequate resources to capably run language assessments for a reported 10,000 extra students.

And when the UKBA decided to use the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment as a standard for English-language ability in 2010, Richard Rossner, chair of the European Association for Quality Language Services, had to write to it "to correct some significant misunderstandings" in the agency's interpretation of the requirements.

Numerous studies have shown that second-language ability on entry to a country does not correlate with ultimate academic success - the US recognises this and sets no minimum language requirements to obtain student visas.

As the Brazilian Embassy's Juliana Bertazzo said: "Academic requirements should be the only requirements." We could not agree more, but until this is accepted by the powers that be, the UK will continue to lose international students to its competitors.

James Pitman, Managing director, HE - UK and Europe Study Group

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