Tuesday, 31 January 2012

70% fall in private sector enrolments

The number of international students enrolling in private sector colleges in the UK has fallen 70% since the introduction of the latest Tier 4 restrictions, according to a new report from the thinktank CentreForum, Tier 4 tears: how government student visa controls are destroying the private HE sector.  It attributes this mostly to the loss of work-rights for international students at private colleges.  The report vastly under-reports the number of colleges which have closed as a result, mentioning only one.  By contrast, at UKCISA we know of at least thirty which have closed, affecting thousands of students, and those working in this sector expect there to be more casualties to come.  

The report highlights the tension between Home Office attempts to bring down international student numbers because of net migration targets, and BIS policy to encourage the private sector to encourage competition and reduce the cost of higher education.  According to the Independent on Sunday:

Officials at the Department for Business believe it is "only fair" to treat those private colleges who pass the tests in the same way as state-funded institutions. "There should be a level playing field," a source said, adding that good colleges had been caught up in the "collateral damage" of the Home Office eagerness to appear tough on immigration. 

It remains to be seen whether the Home Office can be persuaded to look again at work rights for the private sector (and also public sector FE, which has seen its students restricted to only ten hours work a week).  

Assuming that change will not come soon enough to help most struggling colleges, we can expect to see a continuing trend of private colleges forging closer relationships with partner universities, looking to the university to "own" the students for immigration purposes.  This adds another layer of complexity to for universities in ensuring compliance with their Tier 4 sponsor requirements.  It also underlines that with cross-sectoral partnerships widespread, the designation of an institution as "public" or "private" may become increasingly blurred.

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