Thursday, March 15, 2012
Scottish colleges facing foreign students ban as UK Border Agency uses heavy handed tactics, its time to redefine its borders as they cross the line
We all know or should know that the college sector is undervalued in higher education, always seen as the poor relation to universities.
Colleges are the work horses of getting Scottish youngsters to a better life, as well as youngsters, colleges are seen as a better entry level for people returning to education.
Bogus colleges in the UK are a problem, phoney institutions set up as a pipeline for people from ethnic backgrounds to circumvent the immigration system.
In a heavy handed approach genuine Scottish colleges are facing a ban on the recruitment of foreign students because of tough new immigration rules.
With funding being cut, this is a valuable revenue stream that has been damaged without due care and thought.
Six publicly funded colleges are seeking urgent talks with the Home Office after they were stripped of their highly trusted sponsor status following inquiries by the UK Border Agency (UKBA).
The UK Border Agency (UKBA) is a poor man’s Police Force used to track down illegal’s who have entered the UK or do not have permission to work here.
When the UKBA sent inspectors into institutions as part of a crackdown on colleges it takes with it the power to can suspend the licence of a college if it finds evidence it is not fulfilling its duties.
In other words if ‘students’ dupe the system the college gets it in the neck, effectively being punished for the failure of the UK Border Agency for letting them in, in the first place.
We will always get bogus students.
The move is damaging because it will impact on the raising of additional funding, from next month, with a highly trusted status, a college can recruit overseas students thus boosting its coffers and prestige.
Locally some colleges are at risk, Anniesland, Stow and Cardonald in Glasgow and Motherwell in North Lanarkshire, they fear the demotion will hit their international reputation.
The overseas market has for over a decade and longer figured in the thinking of higher education institutions of being the cash cow to prop them up.
In Scotland some 2500 students are currently enrolled, most of these people are here for an education, some will stay on such is the transient nature of the job market.
The reason for the recent demotions came after UKBA inspectors found attendance records were not being properly kept.
A sledgehammer was then used to crack a nut.
International students have to sign attendance sheets every time they go to classes, but some colleges had been relying on lecturers to keep registers.
Another problem that some colleges have is some overseas students had left before the end of their course which is a contravention of UKBA rules.
This results in an automatically downgrade which is unfair and bad practice by the UK Border Agency.
Scotland's Colleges, which represents college principals, said it was seeking urgent talks with the Home Office.
John Spencer, the organisation's convener, said:
"It is easy to understand why these rules exist, but it is nonetheless the case that they end up discriminating against colleges in Scotland. The loss of highly trusted status damages the reputation and prospects of the institution in attracting students to study with them. Furthermore, the changes being planned for April could see Scottish colleges unable to recruit internationally because they have fallen foul of the rules through circumstances beyond their control. These rules require urgent attention before that point to ensure international opportunities are not lost for the colleges and for the potential students wanting to come to Scotland."
"There are only six colleges in Scotland which have more than 100 international students enrolled, and many of the others have fewer than 50. In those circumstances, if a handful of students have to leave for entirely legitimate circumstances, the colleges can be penalised and stripped of their status."
Duncan McDougall, director of enterprise at Cardonald College, said:
"Our priority is our current international students who have been working hard to gain a qualification. We will seek to work with the UKBA to ensure disruption to the students' studies is minimised."
The Westminster Government's reforms of the immigration system were introduced to tackle abuse and the rise of so-called bogus colleges in the UK.
But let us be realistic, we all know what a genuine college is and places such as Anniesland, Stow and Cardonald in Glasgow fall into that bracket.
Robin Parker, president of NUS Scotland, said:
"We're concerned that such a cut might stretch the ability of colleges to deliver the frontline teaching quality and support services that students rely on to progress into employment or university."
This is a serious problem which requires a serious response, for too long the UK Border Agency has operated liked a mini fiefdom in law enforcement, it is time that they were brought to book.
The decisions they have made regarding genuine colleges should be removed from their remit.
The college sector will become more important for Scotland if independence is achieved because colleges offer better cash per student ratios.
Higher education is in need of major overhaul as it is too dysfunctional but that is another story.
The UK Border Agency is there to protect our borders but it needs to have its borders redefined.
The Campaign for Human Rights at Glasgow University