It was a big blow for Nilesh who’d been slogging 70 hours a week to save up the 6000 pounds tuition fee for his brother’s MBA at an East London college. It was the route he had taken last year to come to London and start a new life, and he was hoping his brother would join him soon. But given the closer scrutiny with which applications will now be scanned, he felt it was unlikely that his brother or many of the other applicants would make it here without a grilling.
Thousands of so-called Indian students who come into Britain each year have similar stories where education is merely an excuse to misuse the immigration system and enter the country indefinitely. The points-based system introduced by the government has made this abuse even easier as all you need is a course offer from a college to obtain a visa. No wonder, then, that higher education aimed at students from third world countries has become a massive business proposition in the UK. Experts reckon there are about 2000 colleges approved by the UK Border Agency to sponsor migrant students when in fact the actual number of higher education institutions and universities in Britain is only 165. Many of the others are self-accredited bodies that have proliferated simply to take advantage of the loopholes in the system and make a fast buck.
What’s surprising, though, is why it has taken so long for the regulatory body of UK Universities – the Quality Assurance Agency to crackdown on these institutions. It isn’t hard to spot them, really. Nilesh, for instance, goes to a college that charges 6000 pounds for an MBA while the average fee for the same course in other reputable universities is anywhere between 25,000 to 40,000 pounds. What’s more, none of these bogus colleges even remotely feature in the ‘top’ lists of any higher education rating lists, or meet any of the teaching or infrastructural standards of the recognized universities. There is a very clear distinction between genuine and non-genuine and it would be naïve to believe that the UK government hasn’t been able to clamp down on them because it is too complex a problem. It isn’t!
To a layman like me, there is a visible lack of intent to change the status quo and the UK government seems to be paying lip service to the issue by doing things like banning visa applications in North India. In an election year where immigration is a huge issue, and perhaps Labour’s weakest attribute, they probably want to be seen as doing something. But how temporarily suspending visa application from a few centers is going to solve the problem in the long run is beyond my understanding. All it does is delay the inevitable (those who want to get here by hook or by crook will find another loophole to exploit), and put to inconvenience the genuine applicants.
If the government really wanted to do something substantial, they would be heavily cracking down on these bogus colleges instead. The border agency claims to have already suspended 60 education providers, but given the economic repercussions this would have, it would be interesting to watch the extent to which they go in this mission. There is already a big squeeze on higher education spending and with bigger universities accepting fewer students than earlier, there is going to be a demand for colleges.
But from the long-term perspective, the only way forward is a complete regulatory re-haul of the higher education standards making it much tougher for substandard institutions to grant sponsorship to foreign students. This will inevitably compel such education providers to either shut up shop or raise their standards. The Tories have promised tough action on the issue if they come to power, including allowing only higher education institutions registered at Companies House to fast-track student applications, thus more closely monitoring the others & making foreign students in non-recognized bodies pay a bond of £1,000-£2,000 at the end of each academic year.
It remains to be seen whether anything substantial will be done at all, but it would be a great disservice to all parties if tough action isn’t taken fast.