Two steps forward…. and three steps back. Another day and another meeting with the UK Border Authority to discuss aspects of the implementation of the points based immigration system for students (Tier 4 as it is known). This time the focus was on the guidance being prepared for institutions and applicants on the process and what is expected of each. Clearly the guidance (which largely embodies the policy) will impact on the processes and systems used by institutions.
The meeting was conducted under Chatham House rules which means I can’t say too much about the substance of what was discussed. The positive I noted from the meeting was that the UKBA were at least listening to what was being said and as a result there were a significant number of points that they took away for further clarification. The negative is just that – there are still so many issues that need addressing or clarifying. There is already a very short period of time to implementation and the clock continues to tick. There is still some way to go before the sector gets a clear picture of what is required and the changes that will be required to their processes and systems. Some of those present expressed concern outside the meeting that their student records systems supplier would not be able to respond in time. UCISA is keeping suppliers up to speed with developments but they are still in a position where they do know what the requirements are and so are not able to assess the impact on their systems and the development required. This concerns me – there is a risk that changes to systems will not be delivered in time or will not be adequately tested. In a highly competitive market UK HE institutions need to be able to handle their international students efficiently if they are not to lose them to another institution or indeed to another country. The risk that the short lead time to implementation will lead to inefficiencies as the new system beds in is not insignificant.