Swamped by red tape

January 3, 2013

I am sure that many in higher education identified with the UK Border Agency's recent administrative headaches ("'Illegal' students reports ignored", News in brief, 6 December), but that is where the commonality ends. As the London Metropolitan University affair demonstrated, universities do not have the luxury of acting on their visa responsibilities only "where resources permit" in the manner reported by John Vine, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, in his inspection of the Tier 4 system.

The story behind the figures - more than 150,000 notifications by sponsors on the sponsor management system ignored - is of hundreds of man-hours spent adhering to strict immigration regulations at great expense, so it is disappointing to hear that this correspondence was not acted upon.

Just when our global competitors - Australia, New Zealand and Canada, for example - are making their visa systems more user-friendly, the UK has added so much red tape that even those charged with overseeing the system cannot keep up. As a result, we are becoming less competitive just when the UK as a whole could do with the economic boost provided by a thriving education tourism industry.

It is only right that those who flout the visa rules are pursued, of course, but Vine's report says that once finally dealt with, much of the backlog related to changes of address and the like, issues that do not affect anyone's right to stay.

It is likely that the true number of "bogus" students was low and this is an important distinction to make: the majority of international students arrive here willing to study and leave when they are supposed to, having enriched British academia, diversified the experience of domestic students and contributed hugely to the economy. They should be welcomed with open arms.

James Pitman, Managing director, HE - UK and Europe, Study Group.

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