High praise for multicultural FE provision

8th June 2012 at 01:00
But `draconian' rules over student visas put diversity at risk, NUS Scotland warns

Scottish colleges have been praised in a new report for the multicultural learning experiences they provide.

But fears have also been raised that this could become a thing of the past at some institutions if UK Border Agency rules prevent them from taking international students in future.

Students from 180 nations began their studies at colleges in Scotland last year, according to figures released by education secretary Michael Russell last week.

The most-represented countries included Poland, Spain, Pakistan, India and China, but students also came from as far away as British Antarctica, Fiji and Nepal.

"This illustrates the diverse and cosmopolitan nature of our colleges' campuses and means Scottish students and students from around the globe can benefit from working together," said Mr Russell. "I believe these figures are good news for our students, our colleges and our economy."

But NUS Scotland warned that the Westminster government's "draconian regulations" introduced to tighten up international student visas were holding back Scotland's education sector and threatening its diversity.

"We can't underestimate the threat the Westminster government's misguided rules for international students pose to Scotland's educational, cultural and economic health," said Nikki Holder, international students officer at NUS Scotland.

In March, it was revealed that six colleges had failed to meet the standards required by the UKBA for "highly-trusted sponsor" status.

Two have lost the status altogether and are unlikely to be able to host any international students in future; four have been downgraded.

Under the regulations, colleges have to reapply annually for their highly trusted sponsor status, which means that a number have yet to hear whether they have met the new standards.

Under the latest visa rules colleges are required to ensure that students attend classes and complete their courses. But it is understood that some Scottish colleges have fallen foul of the completion rules where only small numbers of international students have been enrolled on a course and the premature departure of one or two has pushed them below the required threshold.

"These rules are difficult for many of our members to stay in line with, simply because they are proportionally based - where a handful of students have to leave their studies, the college can lose its licence as a result," said John Henderson, chief executive of Scotland's Colleges.

Susan Walsh, principal of Cardonald College, one of those that fell foul of the UKBA rules, said: "Research shows that opportunities to link with international students enhance employability of students. It's unfortunate that the UKBA's action will have unintended but serious consequences for Scottish students and for those international students lost to other, more welcoming, administrations."

julia.belgutay@tess.co.uk.

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