Monthly Archives: August 2012

Q & A with English UK Head

Tony Millns, Chief Executive of English UK, talks about the association’s recent communication with the UK’s Government.

What has English UK been up to in the last 12 months?

We have continued with our own very successful series of small fairs. We’ve also organised some promotional trips and taken part in other workshops and events in Turkey, Russia, China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Brazil and Kurdistan. And we brought agents on an inward mission to Central England. We refreshed our flagship even, StudyWorld London. And with almost 900 attendees, it was our biggest yet. In addition, we take our role in professional development very seriously. We’ve run our regular conference for the ELT sector in the UK in management, marketing, business English and the annual conference. We’ve also run a huge range of more than 30 one-day training courses, as well as a diploma course for ELT managers and a certificate course for welfare officers. Recently we have also had a central role in re-forming the Joint Education Taskforce, the key body through which the English language sector talks to the UK Border Agency (UKBA).

What challenges to members face in regards to the Extended Student Visitor Visa (ESSV)?

There is a very volatile situation at the moment, but our statistics show that our members are very good at diversifying. Many have moved out of Tier 4 and are concentrating on Europe or using the Student Visitor Visa (SVV) and ESSV successfully. We’ve also noticed that adult numbers are down, but junior courses are booming – up by 21%. At our annual conference, UKBA’s Neil Hughes said that the main reason the ESVV had not been written into the Immigration Rules was that the UKBA wanted to make sure the route was not abused. The ESVV was going to be included in an overall review, and while he couldn’t give any promises, he told us he was “quite content” with what was happening with the visa and members found a refusal rate of 8%, which compares very favourably with the 20% threshold for Highly Trusted Status (HTS). So all that gives us hope, together with the UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech of last year which suggested strongly that the government was interested in boosting tourism, in particular from areas such as China. It would clearly concern member centres if the ESVV were not made permanent. At present, it’s hard for members making use of this visa to plan ahead with confidence.

What research have you done on non-accredited language schools in the UK?

Our predecessor, Arels, put together a list of 560 non-accredited language schools in 2002. We wanted to get an idea of the scale of the problem, because our members were certain that these institutions were sources of blatant abuse of the student visa system. We’ve kept this list going, checking it again four years ago when we found most of them were still active and giving cause for concern. This year we made it a priority for our researcher to work her way through the list. She found that 45% were no longer operating as language schools, 27% were taking EU students only, and 22% now had some form of accreditation, which is better than nothing. So, almost 95% of those suspect colleges are no longer actively recruiting students in breach of immigration rules. The remained, 6%, failed a “mystery shopper” exercise carried out by our researcher. I’m pleased to say that is was English UK that raised the issue of bogus colleges as an immigration loophole and persisted in drawing this to the attention of ministers and the UKBA.

UK to Toughen on Student Loans to EU Students

The UK’s Student Loan Company (SLC) – a government-owned organisation that oversees the student loan system – is struggling to recover payments from EU students. As a result, legal action is being considered.

The SLC began issuing loans to students from EU countries for university study in 2006. Recent figures released for England only show that of those EU students who graduated in 2010, 27% or around 1,700 students – are officially categorised by the SLC as “repayment status to be confirmed”; or in other words, no repayments are being made and the SLC has no knowledge of the borrower’s work status or even residential location. Further, around 600 students – or roughly 10% – are known to be living overseas but have failed to provide the SLC with employment details and have now officially been noted as in arrears.

Of those students who graduated in 2011, 33% have been classed as “repayment status to be confirmed” and an additional 700 students are known to be resident overseas and are now officially in arrears.

For international students that remain in the UK to work after their studies, the process of paying money back to the SLC couldn’t be simpler. Repayments are automatically deducted from a worker’s pay check through the UK’s Pay As You Earn Scheme (PAYE), which also covers tax for example. The threshold before any payments are taken is currently at £15,000.

Of the 2010 graduates, around 700 from the EU have made payments automatically in this way in the last financial year. There are a further 8% who are still in the UK and working but whose earnings are below the current earnings floor.

Around 600 have actually repaid their loans early and in full.

The SLC is now serious about pursuing bad debts on its books. An SLC representative said: “We are currently in the process of reviewing accounts of both UK and EU borrowers who are known to reside overseas and who are in arrears, with a view to issuing legal proceedings against those who do not respond to the initial letters.”

A statement from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills – who oversees the SLC – said: “The majority of overseas borrowers are honest and want to repay the loans they have received. However, all borrowers need to know they cannot evade their obligation to repay simply by moving overseas.”

£2.1 million was collected from EU students who graduated in 2010 in the last financial year, with the total outstanding debt for this group being £35.9 million.

Majestic College Loses Heavy Handed Debt Recovery Case

Majestic or Bison (or whatever they choose to call themselves) had a claim struck out in the Southend County Court on 27th July 2012. They sought to claim fees from a filipino student’s Aunt who had been her sponsor for her UK Visa. The court found that no contract existed between the Aunt and the claimant. It follows that a person who sponsors a potential student’s visa application is simply guaranteeing that the applicant will not be a charge on any state funding, and not offering a global guarantee to all and sundry in the UK! The claimant also failed to prove that it had given suitable notice to the defendants before starting the legal action.

This post was submitted by Trevor Murray.

Concerns Raised as Some Tier 4 Applicants to be Interviewed

Despite already passing a secure English language test, students could be prevented from studying in the UK at the whim of Entry Clearance Officers (ECOs).

As interviews are re-introduced for students to “check their actual ability”, there are growing concerns about whether ECOs are up to the job and if the assessment of a student’s English ability will be universal around the world.

Taking steps to reduce abuse of the student visa route is a good thing. However, not using qualified language assessors raises legitimate concerns. As we previously reported, Damian Green has said: “With more interviews and greater powers to refuse bogus students we will weed out abuse and protect the UK from those looking to play the system.”

Over the next year, it is expected that 14,000 international students applying for Tier 4 visas to study in the UK will be interviewed. This represents around 5% of the expected 250,000 international students. Only a fraction are expected to be interviewed as the UK Border Agency will be targeting regions where the risk of abuse is higher and specifically target students who do not apply to an education provider with highly trusted status. No announcement has been made as to which nationalities will be targeted, but one would expect the Indian Sub-Continent to come under scrutiny, as it has in the past.

It is expected that at interview ECOs will ask applicants about their “immigration and education history, study and post-study plans, and financial circumstances”.

The use of an interpreter will be strictly banned and the theory behind this move is to check that a student’s English language skills match those on the secure English language test certificate submitted in support of their application. Failure to convince the ECO, failure to attend and the need of an interpreter will result in the applicant being rejected.

Applicants must be able to “demonstrate without the assistance of an interpreter” that their English meets the level of the test certificate they have submitted. Failure to do so, and failure to attend interviews, will result in their application being rejected.

Thank said, the UKBA has provided no details as to how the interviews will be conducted nor what training ECOs will receive to make them viable assessors of language ability.

The Chief Executive of Cambridge ESOL, Mike Milanovic – who provides a number of secure English language tests, including the IELTS – said: “Speaking is possibly the most challenging skill to assess. Even when it is carried out by very experienced language teachers, you still need to provide them with specialist training and very detailed instructions.”

“You also need an extensive quality management system to back this up. Otherwise, it’s almost impossible to deliver a fair, reliable assessment,” said Milanovic.

The UK Border Agency has hinted that staff may seek guidance from local British Council offices, but no comment has been made by the British Council when asked if they have been asked to provide any kind of training to ECOs.

Secure English language tests were made compulsory for Tier 4 student applicants in 2009 and the level of English required was raised in 2010. At the time, the UK Immigration Minister, Damian Green, said: “Secure English language testing will ensure that we have independent evidence that all education institutions are ensuring their students are capable of following a course delivered in English.”

Does the introduction of English ability checks mean the UK Border Agency no longer has confidence in these secure tests? Regardless, many in the industry do not believe that this step will do anything to reduce abuse of the student visa route.

A research director with World Education Services – which monitors higher-education – said: “Interviews may deter fraudulent applicants to some extent; however, interviews are not only resource intensive but also highly subjective.

“A better approach would be to investigate the sources of frauds. For example, many education agents who are appointed by universities have an incentive to make an applicant look ‘admissible’ by hook or crook. More attention could have been paid to curb risks of fraud at the source.”

College refused to issue CAS (Need help or legal advice)

Need some advice and its urgent

I came into the UK under the old Immigration rules that were in place before April 2009. I tried to get a CAS letter from my college in-order to apply for visa Extension under the Tier 4 student rules but my college refused to offer any CAS letter, saying that they won’t issue any CAS letter to students until our exam results comes out, which affected some students since their Visa would expire before exam results comes out. Unfortunately one of my classmates had to leave the UK just two weeks before the results came out. Disappointed and filled with anger leaving the UK without his results, CAS letter and no way of extending his visa.

We felt that we were unfairly treated and couldn’t do anything about it. I got my exam results about a month before my visa expired and because i was going to be applying for visa extension as a tier4 student, i had to wait for my official financial sponsor from back home.I got the letter 2 days before my Visa expires, took it to the college in order to get the CAS letter, just to be told that the college can’t and won’t accept the official letter i was showing them because it doesn’t indicate anywhere on the letter that its an International Organisation (the company is an international company and no where on the UKBA tier4 guidelines did it mentioned anywhere that the company should include the word “International Company on the letter) and that it should have been accompanied with a bank statement from the Company as well.

For those two reasons, the college said they wont offer me any CAS letter which was absolutely rubbish.Because one, the letter was infact from an International Company and two i called the UK border agency and asked them if i do require a bank statement from the company that was sponsoring me and i was told twice (I called the UKBA), that i only need to show a letter from my official sponsor confirming that they were sponsoring me on the company’s letterheaded papper and stamped etc which had all that on the letter. I when back to the college and explained exactly what the UKBA said but they still said no and i couldnt do anything about it. Because the UKBA advisor i spoke to said it was up to the college to issue students with a CAS letter and if they fail to do so i could go to another college and get one from there. Which was pointless considering the fact that i had a day before my visa expires.

Now my visa has expired and i risk getting my late visa application refused. Was the college right in doing what they did? I mean isnt it up to the UKBA to investigate and determine whether a letter was indeed from an international company or not? and how come the UKBA refused to intervene on the matter despite what was going on.Was it even legal what the college did, if not what should i do in order to seek legal action or help.

This post was submitted by romeo08.

London Metropolitan University has Tier 4 Licence Suspended

London Met has had its Tier 4 licence to sponsor international students suspended after failing to fulfil their duties as a Sponsor under the Points Based System.

The suspension came as a direct result of the university’s failure to inform the Home Office of students who didn’t start their courses and happened late July 2012.

This is only the second time that a Highly Trusted, publicly funded university has had their licence suspended. Teeside University’s licence was suspended in early February 2012 amid administrative issues and concerns over international student recruitment. Their Tier 4 licence was reinstated in May.

Glasgow Caledonian University had their Tier 4 licence suspended amid concerns of abuse of the immigration system. Students were found to be working more hours than allowed. This was before the introduction of the Highly Trusted status. Their licence was reinstated after two weeks.

The UK Border Agency raised concerns following two audits of the university and found there were questions to be asked of the university’s data collection and recording, for international students from outside the EU. Further, issues were also identified with regards to student attendance and English language ability. Concerns have been raised over English language testing too.

Despite not having a Tier 4 licence to sponsor students and despite therefore not being able to issue students with a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS), which is needed for the student’s visa application, the university has said they will “continue to accept applications from international students over the summer”.

Current students of London Met will not be affected nor will those who have already been granted their visas.

Professor Malcolm Gillies, the University’s Vice-Chancellor, commented: “London Met has worked hard over the last year to rectify previous inadequacies, conducting three of its own audits. It will instantly rectify any residual deficits in its current practice.”

“The University remains a Highly Trusted Sponsor, but its licence is suspended while we resolve remaining issues.”

“London Met and its partners have over 10,000 international students, around 10 per cent of London’s total.  We applaud UKBA’s mission to stamp out visa or compliance abuse and so to support the integrity of British higher education,” he added.

London Metropolitan University is no stranger to controversy although this is the first issue raised with international students studying there. In 2010, the university was ordered to repay £36.5 million after claiming public money for students who didn’t even finish their course. The Higher Education Funding Council for England found serious inaccuracies in data submitted by the university and made the order.

It is claimed an inquiry found that members of the university’s senior management team new full well what was happening and that the London Met had too wide a definition of “completion rate” – the included those students who changed courses or postponed their studies, effectively counting them twice.

The Vice Chancellor and governing body in place during the scandal were allowed to resign.

Students who are planning to study at courses with private colleges whose programmes are accredited by London Metropolitan University should be especially careful until the issue is resolved, as the university is unable to assign and issue CAS statements.