Mixed messages?

There was a news item today on Radio 5live talking where it was suggested that academics would need to closely monitor overseas students as part of the implementation of the new points based immigration system. I’ve been involved in the discussions on the implementation of the system for students (known as Tier 4 within the immigration system) and my understanding is that this is far from what is being proposed. Although I don’t have any formal minute that says as much, I believe that a very much lighter approach is planned.

The immigration system requires sponsors (the universities in this instance) of migrants (here non-EU overseas students) to report should a student that has gone through the immigration system fail to arrive. This makes sense as it then gives the immigration service the opportunity to revoke a visa where it has been issued but not used or identifies where a person has entered the country but not reported at their expected destination. We are looking, in the discussions with the Border Authority to make this a batch report to minimise the effort required by the institution. The other requirement is for a sponsor to report when a migrant misses ten consecutive expected contacts. It is true that we have yet to get a definition of what an ‘expected contact’ is in the case of students but the suggestion is that it will be light touch and certainly not at the level of recording attendance at lectures. It has been recognised that that level of recording is not manageable for the volume of overseas students. However, I would hope that where a student misses, for example, a number of consecutive coursework submissions that the institution would look to find out the reasons why for any student regardless of whether they are home, EU or from further afield. This should be part of regular student care and should be triggered well before a student misses ten submissions – put into that context, does it seem such a burden?

The minister for immigration, Phil Woolas, spoke on 5live in response to the suggestions that academics would be doing the Border Authority’s job in monitoring overseas students. If he knew of a light touch, he didn’t take the opportunity to mention it and address the concerns that being voiced. Rather he seemed more intent on stressing that the education sector was being treated in the same way as all the other sectors. So the message given was for the wider public – to say that the Government intends being tougher on immigration. It remains to be seen whether the sector’s concerns about the implementation, expressed by Universities UK in terms of the potential damage it could do to UK Higher Education, or by other organisations and individuals about the level of monitoring required, are addressed in the on-going discussions over the next few months.

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