'OK tsar to OK yah' colleges cut up rough over visa rules

1st October 2010 at 01:00
Immigration clampdown denies rich Russian children access to courses preparing them for life at elite UK public schools

The children of nouveau-riche Russian oligarchs could be denied access to courses in etiquette that prepare them for life in top British boarding schools because of a Home Office clampdown on immigration, college owners have said.

Companies that run courses in Britain to "polish up" young Sergeys and Svetlanas in preparation for schools such as Eton and Harrow say the bureaucratic new points-based visa system is already putting parents off, and the situation will only get worse for private providers that fall in to a grey area between school and university.

The owners of the tuition colleges, who teach everything from the rules of polo to how to keep a stiff upper lip about drafty dorms, say their customers are extremely wealthy rather than economic migrants hoping to sponge off the British benefits system.

Alexander Nikitich, the Russian founder of Carfax Educational Consultants, said the problem was that his kind of organisation was now being regarded as "suspect" by immigration officials, despite offering a legitimate service to overseas parents.

Last year, then immigration minister Phil Woolas said that fake colleges and language schools were the "biggest loophole" in the immigration system when it was revealed that one in four sponsors of foreign student were potentially bogus.

Damien Green, the new minister, reiterated this earlier this month, claiming that students coming to study non-degree courses may not be "the brightest and the best".

The Government wants to introduce an immigration cap, to bring figures back to 1990s levels.

Mr Nikitich, who graduated from Oxford University after coming to the UK as a student, said: "The system is already ridiculous and we have a lot of complaints.

"I'm now particularly worried that more changes to the system will leave our services overlooked.

"Who is likely to go back to their country on completion of studies: a poor scholar who wants to make a successful career, have a mortgage and a pension, and in order to achieve all of this needs to live in a stable meritocratic society? Or a rich heir whose world is his oyster, who is comfortable with life back at home and who may want to look after family interests there?

"It is unlikely that someone spending #163;50,000 a year on education in Britain will be an economic migrant."

His comments were backed by Nigel Hadden-Paton, founder and director of English Mentors, a company which charges Russians and Europeans high fees to prepare them for entry into the British education system and high society.

Mr Hadden-Paton, a former member of the Household Cavalry, said: "I find the current system highly frustrating and inequitable.

"I had a really difficult time earlier this summer, particularly with the Russians. There seems to be a continual game of tit-for-tat between the UK Border Agency and the Russian immigration officials.

"There has to be some form of system in place to keep the bandits at bay, but the current system is very, very frustrating."

The complaints from Carfax and English Mentors come just a year after the Boarding Schools' Association highlighted the problems schools were having getting visas for their foreign students.

It was particularly frustrated by the points-based system, which makes the educational institution the sponsor of the child, as the international market is a growing source of income.


Heirs to success

What Russian heirs can learn before attending British boarding schools and colleges:

- how to play polo;

- how to maintain a stiff upper lip when you catch a cold at boarding school, but matron won't molly-coddle you;

- how to understand the real meaning of indirect English, such as: "Would you mind opening the door?";

- how to understand British ceremony and ritual - "pomp and circumstance";

- how to get through an interview for an elite private school.

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