Home Office reforms that will require international students to get biometric residence permits and will reduce options for gaining English language qualifications abroad could make the UK appear less welcoming to foreign learners, it is feared.
In a phased introduction that begins this month, students from outside the European Union will enter the UK on a 30-day visa that will be converted into a visa covering the duration of their course only once they have obtained their biometric identity document.
Times Higher Education understands that, according to initial plans, the permits would be available from only 200 or so post offices.
This has triggered concerns about the ability of post offices to cope with demand when thousands of learners arrive this autumn and about the long distances that some students will have to travel. Higher education organisations, including UKCISA: the UK Council for International Student Affairs, have lobbied the Home Office to allow students to collect the permits from their universities.
Meanwhile, there are worries that the government’s decision to accredit just one overseas provider of Secure English Language Tests, which assess learners’ eligibility to study in the UK, will result in a big drop in the number of exam centres worldwide.
From April, students enrolling at private colleges and many pathway providers will be able to take only the International English Language Testing System exams as the two other accredited providers have decided not to continue.
Alex Proudfoot, chief executive of Study UK, which represents more than 120 colleges preparing students for university entry, said he feared that the prospect of a long wait or a long journey for a test if IELTS did not significantly expand its network could be a “massive disincentive” for those considering study in the UK.
A Home Office spokesman said that the department was “working closely” with the Post Office and the education sector “to ensure students can collect their biometric residence permits quickly and easily”. Fewer SELT centres would ensure that “only those with the most rigorous testing processes are being used”, the spokesman added.