Visa crackdown puts 450 colleges out of the international student business

More than 450 private colleges have been stopped from recruiting international students after most of them failed to sign up to the Home Office’s new rules for inspection of the sector.

November 2, 2011

The colleges, which together are responsible for bringing in around 11,000 students a year from outside the European Union, have either lost their licences or face a ban on new recruitment from overseas.

It follows the introduction of the government’s new regime for student visas, under which all providers must apply for highly trusted sponsor (HTS) status and undergo inspection by bodies such as the Quality Assurance Agency.

A total of 251 colleges had their licences revoked after failing to apply for HTS – which all sponsors of international students must have from next April - by a deadline of 9 October. Any existing students on their books have 60 days to find new college sponsors, another type of visa, or leave the UK.

Another 172 colleges applied for HTS but failed to sign up for the “educational oversight” inspection regime by a separate deadline of 9 September.

They can continue to teach existing students but cannot seek new recruits from overseas.

A further 51 colleges have also lost their licences after a UK Border Agency investigation into more than 100 colleges that showed a spike in applications from South Asia just before English language rules were tightened earlier this year.

Damian Green, the immigration minister, said changes to the student visa system announced earlier this year were “beginning to bite”.

“Too many institutions were offering international students an immigration service rather than an education and too many students have come to the UK with the aim of getting work and bringing over family members. Only first-class education providers should be given licences to sponsor international students,” he said.

However, the figures are likely to concern universities that recruit international students from “feeder” courses at private colleges, while there may also be fears about how the announcement will be reported abroad.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, said: “Beyond the substance of these arrangements, it is essential that the government considers the way in which the rules are communicated externally.

“It’s important that the UK appears ‘open for business’ to those individuals who are genuinely committed to coming to the UK to study at one of our highly-regarded universities.

“We must also be conscious of the impact that cutting down on pre-degree courses is having on our universities. Many universities operate pathway programmes with a range of providers. It is estimated that more than 40 per cent of all international students arrive through this means.”

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