15 March 2012

Scottish colleges fail tough new UK immigration tests

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At least six Scottish colleges are facing a ban on the recruitment of foreign students after failing to meet new UK immigration regulations.

UK visa

Cardonald College in Glasgow, one of six Scottish colleges which face the prospect of life without foreign students.

After UK immigration authorities conducted inspections into several of Scotland's higher education facilities, it stripped six institutions of their 'highly trusted sponsor status'.

The move means that when new changes take effect from next month, they will no longer be able to provide UK visa sponsorship for foreign students.

The colleges, which are mainly in Glasgow and Motherwell, are seeking urgent talks with the Home Office to prevent any damage the news will cause to their international reputations.

As the influence international students have on local economies continue to grow, so too does the importance being able to attract foreign students. Recent estimates suggest foreign students contribute as much as £15 million in fees as well as a further £15 million in contributions to the economy.

The demotions came after UK Border Agency (UKBA) inspectors discovered improperly kept attendance records which suggested students weren't attending the classes they were supposed to as well as more than 15% of international students leaving their courses before the end, in direct contravention of UKBA rules.

Scotland's Colleges, the independent body which represents college principals, said it was trying to address the issue with the Scottish Government and the Home Office.

"It is easy to understand why these rules exist," said John Spencer, organiser of Scotland's Colleges. "But it is nonetheless the case that they end up discriminating against colleges in Scotland.

"The loss of highly trusted status damages the reputation and prospects of the institution in attracting students to study with them.

"Furthermore, the changes being planned for April could see Scottish colleges unable to recruit internationally because they have fallen foul of the rules through circumstances beyond their control.

"These rules require urgent attention before that point to ensure international opportunities are not lost for the colleges and for the potential students wanting to come to Scotland."

Mr Spencer highlighted the threshold which automatically disbars colleges if the percentage of international students failing to complete courses exceeds 15%, claiming that the threshold is too low when taken into comparison with the actual number of international students Scottish colleges have.

"There are only six colleges in Scotland which have more than 100 international students enrolled, and many of the others have fewer than 50. In those circumstances, if a handful of students have to leave for entirely legitimate circumstances, the colleges can be penalised and stripped of their status."

The changes to UK immigration policy are part of the Government's efforts to combat abuse and exploitation of current rules after many cases of foreign students enrolling in British colleges and universities with no intention of studying.

Duncan McDougall, director of enterprise at Cardonald College in Glasgow, one of the colleges facing disbarment, claimed that his college's concern was centred on the number of international students who faced losing the opportunity to gain their qualifications.

"Our priority is our current international students who have been working hard to gain a qualification. We will seek to work with the UKBA to ensure disruption to the students' studies is minimised."


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