Massive Drop in General Student Visas

Dec 12, 2011

English Schools all over London and the UK say that numbers of students applying for General Student Visas for English courses fell anywhere between 50 and 95% since the latter part of 2011.  This trend is set to continue with the withdrawal of work rights for non-EU students taking English courses at 'lower than degree level' (i.e. at Private English Language Colleges) that was introduced last summer showing no signs of reversing.

So, such schools have lost the revenue generated from the long courses favoured by non-EU students, the majority of whom wanted to work and study benefiting from the financial support and the enhanced cultural experience of being part of a English-speaking company.

An unwelcome side-effect of this for specialist English schools is what is seen by many as the unfair skewing of the market in favour of government institutions (Universities) who retained work rights for their students & are now profiting from the wholesale movement of non-EU English language students to their on-campus courses.  The student must weigh up his priorities: spend double the amount to study English at a University and work for 10 hours a week or pay for a cheaper course and have no work entitlement.  Unsurprisingly, the lure of work & its exciting potential wins out for many and again, specialist English schools (and, of course English school students) are the losers.

To add to their woes, schools are facing yet another severe financial penalty: to retain HTS status and issue General Student Visa compliant courses, they are now required by law to be inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) who commonly charge three to four times the amount previously charged by the British Council for an equivalent inspection.  This cost, frequently over £12,000 is prohibitive for a great many language schools, a large proportion of whom have now chosen to opt out of the General Student Visa market altogether.

What to do?  English Schools are, of course, re-focusing on the EU.  Alongside this, higher value, shorter and so less visa-restricted courses such as Legal English & Business English are proliferating.  Many are increasing prices dramatically.  From our side, at the Islington Centre for English, we are opting to keep prices low as this is central to our market identity and to lose this would be to lose our defining characteristic.

What else can be done?  Hold on to your hats! From a school owner's perspective; keep finances sound & hope that in the not-too-distant future the Government will decide, as in the US, that students should not be defined as immigrants.  Indeed, the vast majority of students return home after contributing to cash-strapped local businesses who are in dire need of their foreign money, so they should be viewed both in economic and social terms very positively.  They are a win win for this country - bring in money, enhance the reputation of the UK global brand and then go home again. Foreign students are a great bonus for the local homestay families, hairdressers, cafes, clothes shops and pubs all over the UK - and even utterly crucial in English seaside towns like Brighton & Eastbourne and so, the political will to reclassify students will hopefully emerge.  Fingers crossed.

What should the Govt be doing to regain control of our borders?  In my view, they should target countries with terrible track records of playing the visa system. The cliched spam email senders or the 'schools' above a shop in Manchester or Luton offering low quality or non-existent tuition quite openly 'for a visa' with little pretense of education being on offer. Why not stop families switching their houses into each member's names in order to bring non-English speaking wives and husbands into the UK and other openly discussed scam techniques?

Sadly, the government's late efforts to rid ourselves of this particular bathwater has sent the baby flying out of the window and good English schools with high educational standards suffer enormously for the immoral acts of a few.

Looking forward to a more enlightened 2012!

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