New Home Office plans to make international students from some countries pay a deposit of up to £7,000 to gain a visa have been condemned by university and college heads, writes Tony Tysome .
A consultation paper on proposals that would radically transform immigration rules suggests that students from "high-risk" countries, where the visa system has been abused, pay a "bond" that would be forfeited if they disappeared after entering the UK.
The bond is expected to be set at a full year's tuition fees - which would equate to £7,000 in some cases.
The plan has come under fire from Ukcosa, the Council for International Education and the Association of Colleges. Both are represented on a joint education task force assembled by the Government to review a range of new measures designed to simplify the visa system for international students while restricting bogus students and institutions.
Ukcosa said it could see "no advantages whatsoever" to the proposed system of bonds. In a briefing note to members, it says "legitimate students will not have access to this scale of funding" needed to pay a bond and "those from developing countries will be priced out of the system as well as many of those on scholarships".
If the system were introduced, Ukcosa envisages the development of a black market in bonds "from which only those who operate it and non-legitimate students would benefit".
Jo Clough, international officer for the AoC, echoed Ukcosa's concerns. She said: "Our view is that this will be a huge burden to genuine students, while we cannot see that it will provide any disincentive to those who wish to abuse the system."
Another contentious proposal in the consultation document is for international students to be required to gain a certificate of sponsorship from the institution they plan to attend before they can gain a visa.
Ukcosa and the AoC fear that the Home Office may require institutions to check prospective students' identification and financial credentials before they are allowed to issue a certificate.
The Home Office also hopes to streamline the visa application system and to do away with the right of appeal against visa refusals by introducing a set of "objective questions" for prospective international students.
Dominic Scott, chief executive of Ukcosa, said that apart from bonds, the proposed system offered potential benefits.
"It could make the system far more transparent, but we have to make sure that everything positive in the current system is not pulled up by the roots in the process," he said.