The Student Immigration System in Scotland

Written evidence submitted by Scotland’s Colleges

 

1. Scotland’s Colleges represents and promotes the interests of colleges of further and higher education in Scotland. Scottish colleges provide a rich mix of academic and vocational education. As autonomous institutions they have the freedom to innovate and respond flexibly to the needs of individuals, businesses and communities.

Executive Summary

2. Scotland’s Colleges is pleased to give evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee Inquiry into the student immigration system in the UK. Scottish colleges recruit significant numbers of students from outside the EU. This is an important income stream particularly when funding from the Scottish Government is being cut by an average of 10.4% for academic year 2011-12. The announcement by the Home Office on student visas is welcomed but there are some areas of concern for Scottish colleges in the proposals.

Scotland’s College Sector

3. The following key facts illustrate colleges’ contribution to education and training in Scotland:

· Scotland has over 40 colleges with campuses from Stranraer to Lerwick

· 22% of the activity delivered by the sector is in higher education and 78% is further education

· Colleges will receive £581m funding from the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) in 2010/11

· Total sector income for the year ending 31 July 2009 was approximately £725.5 million

· Since 2000, 50% of SFC funded colleges have benefitted from major capital investment

· The quality of provision in colleges in Scotland is assured by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education (HMIe)

· Nearly 22,000 staff are employed in Scotland’s colleges.

International S tudents in Scottish Colleges

4. In 2010 there were 4,759 international students from over 100 countries studying at Scottish colleges, with 2,414 coming from outside the EU. Fee income from these students is a minimum of £12 million though this does not include all the other income they generate through accommodation, books, food etc which we believe would put the total benefit to Scotland to around £24 million.

5. The British Council (Global Value – the Value of UK Education and Training Exports 2007) estimate that the total value of international students to the UK economy is £8.5 billion, making international students a major export industry that needs Government support and nurture in these challenging times.

6. By law, international students have no access to benefits and have time restricted rights to work. In the recent Home Office report of all the categories tracked, students were the least likely to be here after five years and least likely to apply for settlement; they come to learn not earn. Students studying in Scottish colleges are further time limited to three years.

7. International students help create long term global friendships and business links and these ‘soft’ benefits are hugely important for Scotland. International students add a hugely valuable international dimension to home students’ learning experience which helps develop the skills they need to operate effectively in the global market place.

The Student Immigration System and Scotland

8. Scottish colleges and those in other parts of the UK have comprehensive systems for monitoring students’ attendance, achievement and retention. Scotland’s Colleges fully supports the UK Border Agency’s (UKBA) drive to ensure robust recruitment practices are implemented and maintained throughout the education sector with the introduction of rigorous rules under the new Highly Trusted Sponsor status, a requirement for the recruitment of overseas students onto NQF level 3, 4 and some level 5 courses.

9. Scotland’s Colleges believes that more should be done to raise accreditation and inspection standards to ensure the quality of education provision within private institutions of Further and Higher education. We are aware of the existence of private institutions which deliver very poor education, and are disappointed that so many poor private education providers have managed to register as Tier 4 sponsors.

10. We would recommend that priority should be given to further efforts to minimise remaining areas of abuse through tighter inspection, enforcement and compliance of those institutions at the margins, where real risk exists.

11. Any changes introduced by the Home Office following the consultation should be phased in but they should not be allowed to stretch for more than one year. The frequent changes to the UK’s student immigration policy makes it difficult for providers to follow and, more importantly, has caused confusion and concern for our international partners and a period of stable policy is urgently required.

Scotland’s Colleges R esponse to the Home Office A nnouncement on Tier 4 Student Immigration V isas

12. Scotland’s Colleges welcomes the Government’s focus on provider quality. Scotland’s Colleges and other representative bodies for publicly funded colleges in the UK have lobbied for an approach that fully utilises the Highly Trusted Sponsor (HTS) status. We are pleased that this has resulted in Scottish colleges continuing to be allowed to recruit international students.

13. These students enrich college campuses for financial, cultural and educational reasons and many progress on to university courses. Scotland’s Colleges considers that it is appropriate that all providers will now be required to be highly trusted sponsors if they are recruiting international students.

14. We hope that the more robust accreditation system for the private sector will continue to differentiate good practice from poor provision and drive out bogus providers, which will protect genuine students and genuine providers. However, Scottish colleges need more clarification about how this accreditation system will work.

15. While supporting the focus on the HTS, we would like some assurance that Scottish colleges who do not currently hold this status will be allowed a fair opportunity to reach it in future. We look forward to an ongoing dialogue with UKBA on how they administer HTS, especially based on the short time-frame for the introduction of this legislation.

16. Scotland’s Colleges is pleased that the English language requirements for students studying on pre-university programmes has remained at the current level. If UKBA staff are to play a more proactive role in assessing a student’s English, we hope they are given the necessary training and support to ensure that they’re making sensitive and informed judgments on a student’s language ability.

17. Scotland’s Colleges hopes the Home Office reconsiders its decision to place further restrictions on work placements for non-university students. Colleges run high level, highly specialised vocational programmes. By definition the work element of these courses is an essential ingredient. It is hard to understand why universities are being giving extra rights in this area and not other highly trusted sponsors. This is an anomaly that should be remedied.

Conclusion

18. Scottish colleges are committed to supporting a robust immigration system that helps to ensure genuine international students are recruited by legitimate education institutions.

19. Scottish colleges are proud of their worldwide reputation for quality, which helps to attract successful and hardworking international students from around the world to study in Scotland. These students make an important cultural, academic and financial contribution to college life and the communities in which they live.

20. Members of Scotland’s Colleges who recruit overseas students are confident that the quality of their provision, students and strong retention rates will prove effective in ensuring that students fulfil the requirements of their visas and do not pose a risk to immigration in the UK.

21. Scotland’s Colleges would be pleased to give oral evidence in support of this submission as required.

March 2011