Visa rules threaten overseas foundations, Study Group says

The UK’s £2.4 billion overseas student market could yet take a hit from government visa restrictions, according to a private firm that provides foundation courses.

May 18, 2011

The higher education sector breathed a sigh of relief last month when the government announced that it would not cap the number of non-European Union students allowed into the UK, nor stop them taking courses below the degree level – often a route to university study.

But Study Group, which runs international student centres for 12 UK universities, faces potential difficulties as a result of the visa shake-up.

Michael Cornes, the firm’s UK director of operations, said the government-designated “highly trusted sponsor” status of such providers expires in April 2012.

As things stand, the providers cannot be accredited by either the Quality Assurance Agency or Ofsted, and without accreditation, they cannot apply for highly trusted sponsor status, Mr Cornes said.

Without accreditation, he added, the international student centres would have to reduce their student intake.

Mr Cornes said the centres, which offer pre-degree foundation courses, are “critical pathways for universities”.

He gave the example of Study Group’s centre at the University of Sussex, which he said passes on 540 students a year, a stream that is “worth a few million pounds”.

Mr Cornes added that one way around the impasse would be for such centres to use the highly trusted sponsor licences owned by universities if they gave their permission.

While Mr Cornes admitted that “there is a risk to universities” from such arrangements, he was confident that the centres would perform well and that universities would agree to them.

In 2009-10, £2.4 billion of the UK sector’s £26.4 billion income came from overseas student fees.

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