The UK Further Education industry warns Government that enough is enough, we’re at breaking point.
Following the tightening of the UK student visa system, government research has found that education providers in the UK have lost over £10 million of income in a single year, through tightening of recruiting international students migrants.
The survey, commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, found that the number of non-EU students fell from 13,333 in 2010 – 11 to 10,601 in 2011 – 12, a drop of 2,732 or to put it more alarmingly, 20%. The drop was observed across Further Education providers and the drop in tuition fee income was sizeable: down from £52.6 million to £41.6 million.
The drop in numbers of students choosing the UK has come about following tougher restrictions imposed by the Home Office. Students’ right to work was heavily curtailed, allowing some students only 10 hours’ work per week. Students are also prevented from remaining the UK for study for more than three years. Students who study at Higher Education providers – universities – are not subject to the same restrictions.
Further, students who choose to study with an independent further education college are required to take a secure English language test. Prospective university students can be tested by the their university, or indeed have the English language requirement completely waived.
Some colleges have been hit harder than others, researchers found. Student numbers at Grimsby Insitite have fallen from 105 in 2010 to just seven – yes 7 – in 2012. This is had the college to closing one of its student residences, saying “we just haven’t got the students.” This drop in students has cost the college more than £1 million in income.
Even award winning colleges are not free from these pressures. Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College – who won a Queen’s Award for Enterprise – saw student numbers fall from 1,300 in 2010 to just 870 in 2012. International student recruitment provides 12% of the college’s income, a not insignificant amount.
“The government just doesn’t seem to get that it’s a massive decrease in the local economy,” said Rachel Gurney, international contract manager at the college.
The Home Office is continually reminding us of its strategy to reduce net migration levels whilst still welcome “the brightest and the best” students to the UK. Then-Immigration Minister Damian Green said in 2012: “It is vital that we continue to attract the brightest and the best international students but we have to be more selective about who can come here and how long they can stay.”
However, it seems that the UK’s Coalition Government just doesn’t want to listen. Ministers have repeatedly rejected calls by Members of Parliament and other industry groups to remove international student migrants from net migration figures, on the basis that the vast majority of students leave the UK once their studies are complete.
Staff have also been made redundant because of the loss of income to colleges. The requirement for potential language students to already have English language proficiency before they come to the UK, has seen colleges close language courses entirely. Chichester College just could not afford to continue offering English as a Foreign Language courses and had no choice but to make five staff members redundant.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills study found an alarming response to the problems faced by UK education providers: a new drive to set-up overseas campuses, removing the problem of the restrictive UK visa system. An example is the Association of Colleges’ India initiative.
John Mountford, international director of the Association of Colleges said, “You can’t argue with the figures that show the number of students coming to colleges has gone down since 2010, and you have to assume that the immigration legislation has affected that.”
A new barrier has been put in place since the research was concluded – face-to-face interviews as part of the student visa application process. These are interviews designed to assess credibility, are highly subjective and point to the fact that, “it will not become any easier to study in the UK in the short to medium term,” adds Mr Mountford.
The message is simple: further restrictions would be hugely damaging. “It would be disastrous. Disastrous,” said one principal.