Student Visas - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by St. Clare's, Oxford (SV1)

There are a number of points which I would like to make which I hope will inform the debate and make the position of St. Clare's and other similar educators clear.

1.  St. Clare's is an international, sixth form college and has been since it was founded in 1953. It has been offering the International Baccalaureate Diploma since 1977, longer than any other school or college in England. Worldwide, there are only 14 other schools have been doing the Diploma longer than St. Clare's. The College has been awarded an Outstanding rating from Ofsted, achieved by less than 10% of schools and colleges in the UK. In addition to the IB programme, the College also operates a year-round English Language School, a University Foundation Course [UFC] and takes American undergraduate students for semester programmes. It is recognised by the International Baccalaureate Organisation as a provider of training courses for teachers.

 2.  Approximately 85% of revenues are generated by foreign students, ie the College earns c £10 million every year for the UK and is a net contributor to invisible earnings. It is a member of an industry which is highly regarded by foreign students who have made a deliberate decision to send their sons and daughters to be educated in this country. The College did not "take in" foreign students in order to compensate for lower numbers of students from the UK—it has always been an international college and its mission is "To advance international education and understanding". There are very few Colleges in the UK which are like St. Clare's in terms of the deliberate international composition of its student body and the range of courses which it offers, with Atlantic College - part of the United World Colleges movement- being our closest comparator.

3.  The College has Highly Trusted Status [HTS], the highest level of registration which UKBA offers. It takes its responsibilities for issuing CAS letters very seriously indeed. It is the College's view that in line with the observations made in points 1 and 2 above, that institutions with HTS should be allowed to offer Level 3 courses and sponsor students under the GSV route.

4.  Having read the Consultation document it would appear that:

  • the arrangements for independent schools, where the majority of visas issued are Child Student Visas, are unlikely to change. Students are under 18 years of age, are not allowed to work or bring in family members and do not have a right to work once they have finished their secondary school education, ie they represent a minimal risk; and
  • the Committee is not reviewing the position of students who come to this country and study for six months or less and who do not currently need a visa.

5.  The Committee is, however, interested in the number of General Student Visas [generally students aged 18+] which are issued every year under Tier 4 arrangements and is looking to find ways to limit the number. There are a number of approaches which can be taken:

  • cut the number of visas by a specific percentage;
  • reduce the benefits associated with the granting of a GSV, notably the right to work, the right to bring in family members and the right to work in the country once a degree has been awarded; and
  • review the level of courses for which visas are granted.

6.  Whilst it possible for different parts of the education industry to have different views about how cuts should be made, from St. Clare's perspective, the greatest threat is to reviewing the level of courses for which visas are granted and for, specifically, the University Foundation Course [Level 3] which prepares foreign students for entry into British universities. Students who take the UFC at St. Clare's have been extremely successful in going on to very good British universities. Their English is strong enough to cope with the demands of a first degree, they have had a year to get used to life in the UK and they have adapted to the less didactic style of teaching in this country which often differs from their home country experience. This means that these students are much less likely to drop out of their first year of a degree programme and are more likely to complete a first degree successfully. We would, therefore, heartily concur with a view that colleges with HTS status should be allowed to offer UFC courses as they complement the work of universities. Furthermore, it was clear at the meeting on Monday 13 December at St. Anne's in Oxford that the universities themselves value the work of third-party providers like St. Clare's in "supplying" good quality students to their institutions.

7.  Slashing the number of Tier 4 visas which are issued would represent a crude approach to the political problem which the Coalition faces—the promise to cut the number of immigrants to the UK to the "tens of thousands". The Committee can, however, reduce numbers by formally considering the suggestions which have already made by other organisations vis:

  • Drawing a line under the UFC so that potential students will not be able to get Tier 4 visas for courses which are less than a Level 3 unless the institution has HTS;
  • Removing the right for students who study Level 3 courses to bring any family members with them. [I would mention that at St. Clare's, no student on the UFC has brought a family member with them.]
  • Restricting the right of students, and dependent family members, to work in the UK.

8. Anecdotally, and although the UKBA has done much to tighten up on rogue institutions, there are still some institutions which abuse the system. These organisations must be shut down and not allowed to re-open. Highly Trusted Status should mean that the institutions which gain that status are trusted to make decisions about the students who enrol on their courses.

 9.   The demonization of foreign students in the press is an irrational and unhelpful response but it should not prevent the government putting in place an intelligent [and responsive] approach to regulating the flow of immigrants into this country. The government should   show leadership on this point and resist the temptation to be influenced by populist rhetoric.

I will conclude with a quotation from The Right Honourable Keith Vaz, Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, made with reference to the capping of immigrant numbers.

"We were particularly concerned about the potential effect on international students. Our evidence underlined their crucial importance to the cultural and intellectual life, as well as finances, of UK educational institutions. The government should direct its efforts to tackling those who abuse the system—bogus colleges and visa overstayers—rather than penalising legitimate students."

I would heartily concur with his remarks.

December 2010

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