The overseas market is crucially important but managing it presents many pitfalls
The number of Chinese students refused a UK visa has plummeted since the processing of applications in China was outsourced to an Indian company last year, it has been revealed, writes Tony Tysome.
Figures published by UK Visas show the number of applications refused this year so far is 705, compared with 6,499 last year and more than 12,000 in 2004.
The refusal rate by June this year was 5.2 per cent, a significant drop from last year when a quarter of applications were turned down. The news will comfort universities, which have been losing vital fee income as the number of Chinese students coming to study in the UK has begun to fall.
Some recruitment heads last year blamed the drop in numbers on what they saw as a tightening of visa regulations following a Home Office clampdown on bogus students.
Paul Sherer, head of UK Visas in China, said he thought that outsourcing the first line of visa processing to 12 regional offices, managed by the Indian company VFS and run by local Chinese partners since last February, had helped improve the quality of applications and discouraged bogus operators.
He denied this represented an arm's length or softened approach to scrutinising visa applications. He told The Times Higher : "I think there are fewer refusals now partly because of outsourcing. It encourages people to make sure they have the right documentation."
He added: "In terms of the integrity of the system, I have no problems because all the outsourcers do is to sort the applications for us. They don't make decisions on which applications are accepted, but it does mean that we can turn decisions around more quickly."
Mr Sherer, who will speak at the annual conference of UKcosa, the council for international education, in Swansea next week, said he thought many bogus operators had been put off after a large number were uncovered last year.
He said: "Previously, a lot of applications were put together by unscrupulous agents. I would like to think that many of those have now gone out of business."