As the implementation of the new points based immigration database progresses, the meetings of the IT working group are now more frequent. I’ve missed the last two so it was encouraging to see that progress has been made and the prototype sponsor management system continues to develop. There are always questions as institutional representatives consider how the system will operate in practice and where it is not clear how the developers have interpreted requests from the earlier meetings. This meeting was no different (and in the higher education sector there are always exceptions that break the rules) but the questions were more focused than they have been in the past when the group was still trying to understand the process.
There remain some concerns – such as the use of free format text fields for the level of the course – but these may be addressed by clearer guidance from UKBA as to what to enter. The guidance needs to be two way – it needs to go to the institutions and software suppliers to determine what is appropriate to be entered/transferred, and it needs to go to the overseas visa offices to ensure that the definitions are understood and the rules applied consistently.
The UKBA staff are about to head off on a series of regional roadshows to promulgate details about the PBS system and the processes around it. This is likely to raise more questions from those who have not been directly involved in the discussions to date. What I hope it will do is promote thought amongst the attendees about how they are going to amend their own processes to ensure controlled use of the system and generation of CAS number, to feedback data from the sponsor management system into student records systems and to manage updates to the SMS about students who withdraw, fail to progress, etc. The process changes may prove to be a bigger challenge that the technology.