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.