Tier 4 tinkering may end in British tears

September 22, 2011

Your article on the University of Greenwich's concerns about the 20 per cent drop in the number of international students applying for its places in 2011-12 filled us with trepidation ("Visa reform questioned again as passage from India shows signs of blockage", 15 September).

It is true that the government's unrelenting rhetoric on cutting net migration has left a sour taste in the mouths of non-European Union students and international agents. The agents we work with report an increasingly negative perception of the UK, ostensibly caused by constant Tier 4 visa revisions and restrictions.

The government surely recognises the importance of international education, hence the stream of relationship-building trips to South America, India and China. But it should also be aware that the Australian education export sector suffered a 10 per cent decline in value in 2010-11, and a major factor in this was student-visa restrictions.

It's also interesting to note the new percentage thresholds that are now applicable to UK institutions applying for highly trusted sponsor (HTS) status.

The UK Border Agency published its latest Tier 4 points-based system guidance last week. Private providers have been ruled by strict percentages since the system was introduced and have questioned why public institutions were not bound by the same stringent refusal, enrolment and course completion rates.

Now, to be pushed to the brink of a UKBA "near miss" (any institution receiving less than 70 Tier 4 points is now classed as such) and the loss of its HTS licence, a university now needs only 10 per cent of the international students it has accepted to be rejected by the UKBA, 5 per cent to fail to complete courses and 4 per cent not to start them.

Large budget cuts mean higher education institutions have fewer resources to dedicate to overseas recruitment but are more keen than ever to attract genuine international students and their high fees. It will be interesting to see how they react to these latest restrictions.

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

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