Recent research has found that tinkering with the UK’s visa system by successive governments has cost the UK economy more than £600m per year.
On average, each and every English language institution in the UK has lost £500,000 in revenue following changes to the required level of English proficiency international students must have.
Further, over 60% of education consultancies worldwide reported that their clients have chosen to study in countries such as the USA and Australia, direct competitors of the UK.
“In the face of these facts, which support a conservative estimate of loss to the UK of £600 million minimum, the UK Border Agency’s argument that the impact on the sector would be ‘limited’ cannot be sustained,” said Tony Millns, Chief Executive of language teaching association English UK, which surveyed its members and their agents to support its campaign for an urgent revision of the rules.
He added: “The loss to UK foreign earnings comes at a time when we need export growth to lift the country out of recession.”
3 March 2010 saw the UK Border Agency (UKBA) introduce new rules for the Tier 4 UK student visa system. The required level of English for international students wishing to study English language courses was raised from B2 to B1on the Common European Framework Reference (CEFR). English language experts say that this amount to students who want to study English in the UK already being at least an A at GCSE.
The UKBA argued that those with a beginner level of English would be able to reach the B1 level making by undertaking a six month course of study as a student visitor. English language schools have long argued this to be impossible and in a positive step, the student visitor category was extended in early January 2011. See our extended visitor category FAQ for full details.
English UK’s agent survey shows that only 40% of all students interested in studying English in the UK are making use of this 6 month route to a full Tier 4 student visa. Whilst better than no provision at all, any students who do come as a student visitor are studying shorter courses than they would have and therefore contributing less than they potentially could to the UK economic recovery. Further, consideration should be given to those students who do not achieve a B1 CEFR level within six months: potentially, they will not study any further in the UK, representing further lost revenue for the economy and UK education sector.
The English UK survey also spoke with English language centres and asked them to roughly assess how many clients they have been forced to turn away since the rule change in March. It was found that an average of 35 international students per centre who could have been enrolled prior to March, were turned away. They also reported that the great majority of these students decided to study in countries other than the UK; few decided to come to the UK as a student visitor.
“Over a year, this would mean a loss to the total English UK membership of at least £220m in tuition fees. The loss to the English language sector as a whole would be around £300m, with the loss to UK foreign earnings at least double that, as students spend several hundred pounds a week on accommodation, food, travel, books and general social spending ,” said Mr Millns.
It should be emphasised that these figures are really an underestimate given the size respondents – around 10% of all English UK members – and the real economic loss is in fact much higher. A key reason for this is that it is very hard to quantify exactly how many potential students have been put off from making even initial enquiries about studying English in the UK given the new visa rules.
Mr Millns added: “Some of these students would have intended to continue studying in the UK, usually with another course at degree level, and that further income, roughly £20,000 a year per student, has almost certainly been lost to us as well.”
A similar picture was painted by agents worldwide. The survey asked 200 top agents across 31 different countries for their views. It was reported that 40% of clients had chosen to study in the UK as a student visitor whilst 60% had chosen study destinations other than the UK. Australia, Canada and the USA have all seen significant rises in popularity.
“Some of them even cancelled the booking and went to the USA instead,” said one Japanese agent, whilst a Turkish agency commented: “Most of our students have decided not to go to the UK. They think that the UK Government does not want Turkish students anymore.”
Costs to the industry are very real, with one international language group in the UK reporting that earnings are down US$2m in the last half of 2010 alone, as a direct result of USA referrals rising by up to 50%.
Further, the argument that the UK economy is being hurt is cemented by the drastic drop in the number of Confirmation of Acceptance of Studies (CASs) being issued to international students. During the ten weeks from 3 March, 6,400 CASs were issued. This equates to 35,000 annually.
“This is extremely low given that in a typical year, between 500,000 and 600,000 people come to the UK to learn English, and it would support the argument that visa national students are going to countries other than the UK to learn English, “ Mr Millns said.