Private colleges threaten legal action to challenge crippling visa policy

The government faces possible legal action by independent colleges that claim changes to the student visa system are discriminatory and risk crippling their businesses.

April 14, 2011

Some institutions warn that they will suffer serious financial problems and may even close as a result of last month's overhaul, which was intended to clamp down on "bogus" colleges.

There is also growing confusion about how private colleges will achieve accreditation under the regime, which in effect removes government recognition of bodies such as the British Accreditation Council.

Under the new measures, all private colleges must have "highly trusted sponsor" status by April next year and must, by the end of 2012, be accredited by an approved body such as the Quality Assurance Agency or Ofsted.

In the meantime they face a freeze on recruitment, even if they have "highly trusted" status and a long history of recruiting overseas. This will force many to downgrade growth forecasts and expansion plans.

Aldwyn Cooper, principal of Regent's College, one of the UK's biggest private providers, said his institution, which gained highly trusted status through the BAC, faced a cap on overseas students even though it was applying for degree-awarding powers.

Professor Cooper said: "It could have a staggeringly damaging effect. We will probably lose up to 600 new students that we would have otherwise expected to come here."

Colleges are also objecting to rules being applied differently to them than to publicly funded institutions, such as a ban on their overseas students working part time.

Sandy Lloyd, principal of The City College in London, said dozens of people were cancelling plans to study in the UK, viewing the country as "closed for business".

He said a group of private institutions was seeking legal advice about challenging the government's policy in the courts. "If the policy remains as it is, I can see 50 per cent of private colleges in London closing," Mr Lloyd warned.

Others said that the damage would eventually filter through to the university sector as students often use private colleges as a stepping stone.

"I think the universities are beginning to wake up to this," said Mark Jones, director of external affairs at the London College of Management Studies.

Meanwhile, Gina Hobson, chief executive of the BAC, which faces the prospect of becoming redundant as an accreditation body, said the QAA and Ofsted did not seem prepared for the "surprise" that they would be central to the new arrangements.

In a statement, Ofsted says there may need to be "legislative change" before it can inspect colleges that do not receive public funding.

The QAA, which already reviews some private institutions, said it was working to establish how the accreditation system would work.

A UK Border Agency spokesman said: "We believe we have struck the right balance in ensuring that we have targeted effectively abuse of the immigration system."

simon.baker@tsleducation.com

Higher loans for students in independent sector

Some students pursuing degrees at private providers will be able to borrow up to £6,000 in taxpayer-funded fee loans in 2012-13 in a bid by ministers to encourage competition with universities.

Although that is less than the £9,000 maximum available to students at universities, the numbers that private providers may recruit will remain uncapped - a loophole the government is expected to close eventually.

The announcement came as the Higher Education Statistics Agency's first survey of private providers showed that almost 38,000 people were studying on higher education courses in 2009-10. More than 17,000 were enrolled at not-for-profit providers, and about 20,000 were at for-profit institutions. Business, management and law were by far the most popular subjects.

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

Daniel Mitchell illustration (29 June 2017)

Academics who think they can do the work of professional staff better than professional staff themselves are not showing the kind of respect they expect from others

As the pay of BBC on-air talent is revealed, one academic comes clean about his salary

Senior academics at Teesside University put at risk of redundancy as summer break gets under way

Capsized woman and boat

Early career academics can be left to sink or swim when navigating the choppy waters of learning scholarly writing. Helen Sword says a more formal, communal approach can help everyone, especially women

Thorns and butterflies

Conditions that undermine the notion of scholarly vocation – relentless work, ubiquitous bureaucracy – can cause academics acute distress and spur them to quit, says Ruth Barcan