Student Visas - Home Affairs Committee Contents


Written evidence submitted by Mr Rhodri Llewellyn (SV2)

1.  SUMMARY OF MAIN POINTS

  • Proposed restrictions based on course levels and longer term repercussions (a comparative example).
  • PSW visa.

2.  MY DETAILS

I have recently returned to the UK after migrating to Australia and working with my family in the development of a network of college campuses. I am now finalising discussions with a London based college for collaboration, to bring our operations back to the UK.

Our Australian college delivers programs both to the international market and to domestic students, and has a 14-year history. Our course offering ranges from Business and Management, through to technical and practical Engineering vocations, and we have relevant validations for delivery of such both at our campuses and in the workplace.

3.  FACTUAL POINTS

Addressing the apparent concerns with the current state of immigration is best done in a more holistic fashion, and with a just and objective process. The risk the government (and the affected parties in the industry) faces is attempting to "meet its net migration target" through a knee-jerk reaction to broader policy (with potentially unaccounted for economic ramifications) simply because it has "run out of options". By this, I mean that the government is on the verge grasping at straws to address a valid problem, when more informed foresight would provide for a more effective solution. I will attempt to illustrate this in my "Australia" example below.

The problem, as publicly stated by the government, is abuse of the student visa system through overstays and abuse of work rights. This, of course, is common to all levels of adult education. The issue unique to the private college sector, as stated by the government, is lack of compliance enforcement on the part of the government resulting in some colleges permitting students to run truant as general practice. Obviously this has an adverse effect and should be dealt with appropriately.

On the basis that the government's oversight/monitoring of the industry has been insufficient, resulting in poor practice by some operators, it would be short-sighted to penalise the industry at large through a broad-brush approach to taking sub-degree courses out of the Tier 4 program, thereby "cutting everybody off at the knees". By identifying the true problem, that is lack of monitoring in the industry, the most effective approach can be determined—even if this isn't the easy route for the government, and will take longer to achieve their desired results. At least they will be sustainable results.

Another often overlooked factor in broader industry is the interconnectivity and established progression routes that have evolved over time. Whilst it is understood that many students follow the ELICOS FE/college HE pathways, it is often left unquantified, as was the case in Australia that has lead to the current government's u-turn.

4.  RECOMMENDATIONS

I will jump straight to recommendations in an attempt to keep the submission brief but poignant. As per the "Australia" example mentioned above, a similar heavy-handed but poorly informed approach was taken to address the same problem over there. It has been more than a year now since the government stonewalled the private college sector, in an attempt to stem an influx of underqualified graduates remaining in the country post-study. At the time I remember thinking "at least the UK has this in hand, they use the PSW visa which is the most effective mechanism for controlling post-study mobility". Australia had a route directly to permanent residency through study, which was more difficult to "tweak"when adjusting migration dynamics. Instead of managing this in a thoughtful and precise manner, they drastically hampered students' abilities to obtain a visa, they imposed such astronomical costs for students to get a visa, and they made the process for getting a visa less clear—thereby making the international market suspicious of the Australian government and labelling it racist. Ironically, students and agents abroad showed continued support for the college sector in Australia (I met and spoke with these people regularly—and still do), though the Australian government has lost credibility in these circles.

The other irony, is that the government is now investing a lot of money (after losing vast amounts of tax revenues through damage of the industry and associated tourism income) to conduct an about face, in an attempt to promote the broader education sector (including ELICOS and FE/colleges), and repair the damage done to the reputation of education and the government in Australia. A key catalyst for this costly reversal was the realisation that the higher education sector they were striving the augment was much more reliant upon the private college sector than accounted for in the government's estimations. The university sector in fact supported the strangling of the private sector, until around a year later when the usual flow of "pathway" students didn't materialise, and there was a sudden and drastic reduction in the financial health of the HE sector. This was of course due to the fact that foreign students were finding it too difficult to get into colleges, and numerous quality colleges had been bankrupted by the rash changes. As universities in the UK face cuts to endowments, they rely more upon full fee paying students, a good proportion of which come through the college route. By losing this flow of students, in combination with facing a much tarnished "national reputation" such as Australia has faced, the longer term prospect is the problem and cost of repairing the country's image, along with working out how to keep universities afloat in an already constricted economy.

As mentioned above, the UK has the unique position of already having mechanisms in place to better manage the industry. The PSW visa has been addressed in the current review, and better controlling this through stipulating students must find work within a certain timeframe in the industry they studied, for example, is certainly a good step in deterring "bogus" students. Adjusting working rights is also on the agenda, and perhaps halving the weekday allowance and opening up weekend work rights is a suitable change. Other ideas include requiring 100% of student fees to paid upfront, and for international students to purchase their own insurance for their study duration. This aims straight at the heart of problematic students, and allows quality students to come and study at whatever level they are suited to.

The point to bear in mind is that if a sweeping cut to working rights is made, so the international market feels affronted by the actions of the UK government, it is safe to say that the UK will face the same loss-of-face that has caused the Australian government to reverse its actions, embarrassingly, and at much cost.

The other key mechanism the government already has in place, and can leverage without making rash costly changes, is its immigration framework. By implementing monitoring practices, to ensure compliance with immigration and Tier 4 rules particularly, the government can quickly identify where abuse is occurring, put a stop to the particular perpetrator, which will have the effect of illustrating the quality levels of the UK education sector—a decision the Australian government failed to take and is now paying the price for. Most of us agree that tighter control is required, and I support cracking down on universities and colleges that provide a means for abuse, but it's looking forward to where problems will be caused by today's rash actions, and addressing them now instead of at much cost once the damage has occurred through simple poor-planning.

Overall, I think the review can be very positive, if the outcome is to ensure that each level of educational framework is adequately managed to deliver a quality provision to genuine students. This doesn't mean strangling particular sections of it, it means implementing quality controls at each level and accepting it is a long term commitment to see the overall industry cleansed, and a desirable, cohesive, interconnected system created for the future.

December 2010



 
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Prepared 25 March 2011