Over a third of colleges have had visas for prospective students refused in the last year, a new report has revealed.
According to the Association of Colleges International Activity in Colleges 2018 survey report, more than a third of colleges experienced visa refusals for credibility reasons in the last 12 months on both Tier 4 and short-term study visas.
The report adds that 84 per cent of college Tier 4 licence holders issue fewer than 50 Confirmations of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) per year. “Concern over the likelihood of visa refusals remains a real risk for colleges when issuing CAS, driving down student numbers,” it says. “The small numbers of CAS now issued by the sector is unlikely to pose a risk to UK immigration control, and the restrictions placed on FE colleges should be lifted to allow student numbers to grow.”
“International recruitment at colleges is unlikely to grow until there is a better understanding at entry clearance posts overseas of college courses and college students, and until there is a student immigration system that places more trust in institutions’ admissions decisions.”
Growing student numbers
In its report, A Sustainable Future for International Students in the UK, published earlier this month, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Students a target should be set for growing international student numbers in the UK, and a post-study work visa established to allow people to work in the UK for two years.”
The number of international students recruited by FE institutions dropped following a tightening of the rules around Tier 4 visas. “The visa issue is an historical one,” said AoC international director Emma Meredith. “Progressively over the last eight years or so there has been a series of restrictions placed on the UK student visa system, restrictions which have been particularly stringent for FE colleges.
“For example, students at FE colleges can no longer work part-time under the conditions of their visas. The changes have meant that studying at a college has become less attractive and more complicated for an international student, a position that AoC would like to see change as colleges are excellent at supporting students and have a great curriculum offer. The way to fix the problem is simply for the Home Office to change policy.
Overall, of the 72 colleges who responded to the survey – most from England - 82 per cent were actively involved in international work, an increase of 14 per cent on 2016-17. China remained the most important market for college international activity, “three times more significant than any other country”, according to the report.
The average college income from non-EU international activity in 2017-18 was £723,280, and student recruitment (including summer schools) accounted for at least 75 per cent of all activity and income.
According to Ms Meredith, “time and money” are the main challenges faced by colleges hoping to work internationally. “There are colleges that have developed international strategies and for whom international engagement is a central, successful part of their activity.
"But there are others who would like to get involved, or who would like to expand their international work, but simply don’t have the resources to do so. It takes time to develop an international offer or to respond to international proposals, and it’s fair to say that day-to-day pressures and competing demands on colleges mean it’s a challenge.”
Unable to work
Lesley Davies, chair of the UK Skills Partnership, which provides a framework to help the FE sector bid for international opportunities, said she had particular concerns around Tier 4 visas. Student cannot, for example, seamlessly move into HE from FE institutions without having to leave the country to re-apply for another Tier 4 visa. ”That provides some uncertainty. It would be helpful if students with Tier 4 visas could apply to extend their visa while they are here.”
She added: “The other restriction is that they are not able to work part-time. The migration advisory committee noted that students are restricted here. We would be more competitive and more attractive.”