United Kingdom visa officials are accused of blocking vital income for further education colleges by making judgements on the suitability of overseas students already accepted on courses in the UK.
A survey by the Association of Colleges reveals that international students at three out of five colleges have experienced problems in getting visas from UK officials in their home countries. A third of colleges said their students had also had visa problems on arriving in the UK.
Jo Clough, the AoC's international director, said: "UK visa officials in the home country seem to be making judgements about the suitability of students for courses on which the colleges have already accepted them. The worst offenders are in China and India."
Prime minister Tony Blair is keen to increase the numbers of overseas students studying at British further and higher education institutions in what is becoming an increasingly competitive international market.
A Foreign Office spokesman launched a robust defence of its actions, pointing out that visa officials, or entry clearance officers (ECOs), merely applied the law governing visa applications. He said ECOs were not in the business of making judgements about the suitability of students for courses.
A spokesman said: "At the end of the day no college would be entirely satisfied unless all of its overseas students were admitted. However, there is an element among people applying as students, mainly from the developing countries, who attempt to enter the country illegally."
He said some colleges could do more to ease the application process by stating clearly on acceptance letters that students must take these along with them to the British consul or embassy where they will make their application.
The Foreign Office is working with the British Council to streamline the visa application process. New guidance has been issued to ECOs to ensure genuine applications are processed quickly.