Tier 4 sponsors spend £67m extra in 2012-13 to meet new UK immigration rules

A UK education body has called on the UK's Home Office to stop changing in the rules for Tier 4 sponsors. The Higher Education Better Regulation Group (HEBRG) says that the UK's Home Office has created uncertainty among colleges and universities and says that this lack of clarity has cost them about £67m in administration costs in 2012-13 alone.

The HEBRG says that universities are, and always have been, willing to comply with Home Office rules designed to ensure that only genuine students study at UK educational institutions but Andrew Boggs, an HEBRG policy advisor said 'higher education institutions are prepared to meet Home Office expectations on student visa compliance but confusion over requirements and constant rule changes have led to waste and overspending in an effort to comply'.

Since 2009, UK educational institutions have had to be Home Office licenced Tier 4 sponsors in order to teach students from outside the European Economic Area. Higher educational institutions have complained that the UK Border Agency (UKBA) constantly changed their guidance and made it almost impossible to comply with the rules.

The London Metropolitan University saga

On August 29th 2012, inspectors from the UK Border Agency (UKBA) revoked the Tier 4 licence of London Metropolitan University after alleging that it did not keep proper records to show that all its international students spoke English to the required standard and attended lectures.

LMU went to court to have the UKBA decision reversed. The vice chancellor, Malcolm Gillies said that the university had taken every possible step to comply with UKBA guidelines and said that the ban would cost his university over £10m in fees.

LMU took the UKBA to court and succeeded in getting the ban on teaching foreign students suspended. The UKBA eventually restored LMU's licence in April 2013 but academics said that, by then, a great deal of damage had been done to the reputation of the UK's higher education industry in the eyes of international students.

Universities spending a third of a million pounds annually on compliance

Mr Boggs said that HEBRG research showed that UK higher education institutions 'are investing £312,00 to £358,000 per year to meet visa oversight requirements'. There were also great variations between the highest and lowest spending institutions. The highest spending institution spent over 50 times more than the lowest.

'This variability cannot be explained by economies of scale or intensity of international student enrolment. The data points to irregular and varied interpretations of Tier 4 visa compliance requirements across institutions' he said.

The HEBRG is calling on the Home Office to change its systems to grant UK Tier 4 sponsors greater certainty. It calls for

  1. 'A sliding penalty structure' for those found to be in breach of Home Office guidelines rather than an 'all or nothing' revocation of an institution's licence for administrative failures.
  2. Regular training events for sponsors
  3. Regular feedback when a sponsored student's application is refused
  4. The establishment of a 'Higher Education Assurance Team to 'help institutions to do their job more effectively while reducing the cost to institutions and, by extension, students and the public'.
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