Tougher rules on English-language requirements for foreign students that it was claimed would cost universities £1 billion a year have been quashed by the High Court.
Changes brought in by the Labour government in a bid to deter bogus applications for Tier 4 student visas raised the entry criteria for people studying English in the UK.
As a result, from March, foreign students wanting to improve their language skills on feeder courses before starting university needed the equivalent of a high grade at GCSE English to enter the country.
However, English UK, which represents more than 400 accredited English-language centres, yesterday won its judicial review against the changes, which it said would cost language schools more than 3,000 jobs and over £600 million a year in earnings.
Mr Justice Foskett said the Home Office did not act properly when it amended guidelines rather than formally changing the rules and referring the matter to Parliament.
The legal victory means Tier 4 applications by students with elementary English-language skills – level A1 on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages – should again be considered by the UK Border Agency (UKBA).
Tony Millns, chief executive of English UK, said the ruling would mean “immediate help” for colleges recruiting this summer and autumn, with a beneficial knock-on effect for universities.
“This judgment upholds our basic case that the [former] home secretary [Alan Johnson] was wrong to introduce a substantive change in the visa-entry criteria for students without laying that change before Parliament,” he said.
“This will give our 440 member centres some immediate help, since many of them faced losing a damaging number of students this summer and autumn.”
He added that English UK would now work closely with the UKBA to formulate “a more sensible policy that our members can support and that will contribute to immigration control”.
The coalition government, which is committed to a review of the Tier 4 visa system “in its entirety”, said it was “carefully considering the judgment”.