Battle For Survival: UK Language Schools Protest New Student Visa Regulations:

The latest British Government entry restrictions are bad news not only for overseas students who would like to follow courses in the UK. They are also a potentially disastrous development for the  private ELT (English Language Teaching) sector. A recent edition of Brighton’s ‘Argus’ newspaper concluded that many of “the city’s renowned language schools, which make more than £115 million each year, could be in crisis” and even forced to close. It’s a similar scenario elsewhere in Britain. Faced with a clear threat to its very existence, the profession has started to fight back. The senior managers from 52 of London’s leading accredited language schools have signed a letter to Mayor Boris Johnson pointing out that the new measures could result in  “ a reduction of  45% in the number of English language students in the capital, over £250 million in lost revenue as well as around 5,000 job losses” and urging him to take action to avoid this happening.

On Wednesday 3rd March – the exact day the new rules came into effect- Principals from across the UK converged on Parliament to express their anger and meet with MPs  who sympathize with their cause. Among those present in a packed Committee Room 7 were several representing constituencies which could be particularly badly affected: Sir John Butterfield ( Conservative: Bournemouth), Robert Syms (Conservative: Poole), Andrew Slaughter (Labour: Ealing, Acton & Shepherds Bush), Celia Barlow (Labour: Hove), David Lepper (Labour & Co-Operative: Brighton) and the Shadow Minister for Immigration, Damien Green (Conservative: Ashford). The last two have also introduced ‘Early Day Motions’ in the Commons ( backed by MPs from all three main parties) opposing  “unnecessary restrictions on the applications of students to legitimate language schools” and expressing concern that genuine courses could be damaged. The Chief Executive of English UK ( The association of accredited language schools & state colleges), Tony Millns, declared that the campaign would “continue by all possible means up to the General Election and beyond”. His hope is that “the new crop of MPs” will offer their support, though in practice there is no guarantee this matter will feature high on the next Government’s list of priorities.

 The uncertainty as to who will be politically in charge as from June and what their position will be regarding student visas effectively leaves the UK Border Agency (UKBA) free to deploy its enhanced powers as it sees fit.  Mr Millns doesn’t have much quarrel with the “statutory instruments” relating to work rights for students and their dependents. He is far more concerned about  “an obscure paragraph in section 1.20 of the regulations” whereby UKBA can of its own accord determine the minimum language level required of non-EU students coming to the UK. For those enrolled on degree courses, the “E1 English or equivalent” specification is seen as reasonable – but “ absurd if they are arriving here precisely to learn English”.

The Principals at the meeting were advised not to invest too much faith in the “civilised discussions” currently taking place with UKBA officials about  “the multi-pronged attack on our sector”, namely: The language- testing process, the definition of pre-sessional courses & government-sponsored students, the “absolutely voluminous proposed  policy guidance on how to recruit international students” and (especially contentious) the “highly trusted sponsor scheme” criteria. Several Schools have already found themselves arbitrarily removed or suspended from the UKBA’s “Approved Sponsors” list due to “no shows”. It’s a “Kafka-esque” situation: If they don’t report them and the Home Office find out, they are penalised. If they do report them , then there is a risk they will be depicted as “ visa document factories” accepting students who they know will not turn up for class.

Though there are indeed bogus educational establishments ( which are easy to identify & close down) the Accredited Schools  ”do not want the system to be abused”. They are well aware that such practices undermine the reputation of their profession and enable the Government to justify the extra restrictions implemented at the beginning of Marc


Filed under: Immigration & Visas | Posted on March 9th, 2010 by Colin D Gordon

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