450 colleges had their ‘trusted sponsor’ status revoked in the past year. This affects around 11,000 overseas students. Much is being said in the media about the immigration abuses of student visas, but the coverage forgets the real victims of this headline figure – the students.
Colleges who have their licences revoked are not all ‘bogus’, as the red top papers would have us believe. There’s been a constant scrutiny of such institutions for a number of years now. Colleges denied the chance to recruit international students face financial oblivion, and many close leaving students stranded in the middle of their studies.
I’ve had a couple of meetings with a group of students who have been left high and dry by two main factors. Firstly, they studied at a college run by rip off merchants who were happy to take large amounts of cash in the form of tuition fees, who then filed for bankruptcy. Secondly, they’ve been let down by an immigration system that offers no support or protection to students in this situation.
Immigration law generally limits permission to stay to 60 days if a student’s course ends earlier than expected. As such, this means that a student has 60 days to find another college after their one closes.
Whether a college is licenced to issue Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) certificates is decided by UKBA on three criteria: the human resource systems of the college, the civil penalties, and criminal convictions of the staff and any non-compliance by the organisation. There is no academic scrutiny of the college and no financial safeguards offered to students who choose to study there.
Perhaps an example best explains the situation.
Zara (not her real name) from Bangladesh came to study in the UK. Like so many students across the world, she was keen to improve her understanding and language skills by studying in another country. She’d seen adverts about London Trinity College, knew about the quality of education in the UK and applied. On the college website, it stated that the institution was a recognised sponsor in the eyes of the UKBA, which she found reassuring. The college was indeed listed on the UKBA website as a sponsor. They issued her with a CAS and was issued with a student visa.
Zara paid fees of £8000 to cover tuition for her ACCA qualification in accounting. But the financial demands weren’t quite so simple. She had to prove to UKBA she had enough money in her bank account to maintain herself for a year – £9600 to be precise. Borrowing the money from her parents and a little more from her extended family, she arrived in the UK, found lodgings and started her course in accounting.She was disappointed to find her ‘college’ was set up in a closed down grocery store. But, they taught the course and she thrived as a result of her hard work.
One day Zara turned up to college one day to find it closed. Meeting other students outside they did some quick research and found the college had gone into voluntary liquidation. None of the students were able to get their money back.
On seeking advice Zara and the others discovered that unless they found a college that would accept them within 60 days, paid the fees to the new college and reapplied for a visa, they would be in the country illegally.
Zara and her family could not afford a second set of fees. Additionally, few colleges are willing to accept international students mid-course as they have to use up their valuable CAS allocation for less money than a student studying a full year.
The Government and media stoked hysteria on ‘bogus’ students and ‘bogus’ colleges does wonders for helping to massage the figures on net immigration and appeasing public perceptions on immigration, but it does nothing to help the real victims of the situation – overseas students left in the lurch by colleges and the UKBA.
Overseas students bring billions of pounds of trade and education revenue to the UK each year. Cuts in funding mean that universities and colleges are more dependent than ever on the fees paid by international students to keep courses open and education provision intact.
A stamp of approval from the UKBA has helped thousands of students decide to study at institutions which have dubious academic track records. Revoking trusted status may stop further abuses in the future – but what about those left in limbo now?
We are holding a public meeting to discuss a campaign for the rights of these students, in conjunction with their own organisation Pupils’ Rights. Its being organised for Monday 28th November at 6.30pm in Room 3A, University of London Union, Malet Street WC1E 7HY. Maybe see you there?