Home Office Consultation
I said in December that we were about to see launched the Home Office consultation which Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced in October and then last month I said there was still no sign of it and here we are now in February with the latest news that it is still apparently ‘with No 10’ and that the best estimate is that it ‘could’ come out in March.
It is beginning to seem like the Mary Celeste (!) but if it does in the end appear, rather than disappear, it will obviously be vital for us all to engage as actively as possible (possibly drawing on some of the evidence which we submitted last month to the Home Affairs Committee).
We were though, at a meeting this week (see below) given some rather reassuring comments (following recent statements in the House of Lords) that there was no plan (currently) to either limit student visas or numbers of CASs even for any institution which is not assessed to be of the highest ‘quality’ (which they have not defined) and that the consultation would largely focus on ‘peripherals’ (ease of application and entitlements).
(Home Office) Operational Steering Group
I don’t want to burden or confuse you with acronyms or process but what used to be the Joint Education Taskforce became a year or so ago, the (Home Office’s) Education Sector Forum and this has now split into two groups, one covering Policy (and chaired by the Policy team in Marsham Street, London) and the other covering Operations and chaired by the PBS team (covering sponsorship, compliance, premium account management and visa processing) based in Sheffield.
Each of these groups is going to meet every three months and the first meeting of the Operations Group was held earlier this week - with virtually every membership and sector body represented including ARC, AoC, AMOSSHE, BUILA, English UK, ICN, IHE etc all the way to UKCISA and UUK (to name just a few!).
This was mainly a briefing for the sector – rather than any deep discussion – but you may be interested to hear that:
- The plan is for all PBS (so all Tier 4) visa decision making (currently undertaken in 16 overseas locations) to be moved to the UK by the end of the year (in a process called apparently ‘on-shoring’).
- A new (‘intuitive’) visa application form is to be introduced overseas before the summer (and we have volunteered to help to test it).
- In parallel large scale IT projects are in hand (which I think amongst other things affect the SMS although we did not get into details)
- A breakdown of visa refusal rates over the last year were given showing an average T4 refusal rate of 5.5% (with HEIs 2.8%, Public FE 11%, Private 6.7% and schools 5.7%) and with 28 HEIs and 57 public Fes with refusal rates of less than 1%.
- The Premium Customer Service team now has 178 subscribers who account for some 80% of all Tier 4 students but that consideration is now being given to the introduction of a ‘Premium light’ service, for a lower fee, for any of the approximately 800 (often smaller) T4 sponsors who do not (and largely cannot afford to) subscribe to the current service.
Enter UKCISA’s new ‘online manual’!
Helping colleagues keep up with all the ever changing policy, rules and guidance has however been ‘core business’ for us for many years and we have, as you know, largely done so through the (annual) UKCISA Manual which has been used by so many as a friend, guide, helpmate or even doorstop!
But those days now come to an end as we will be launching, on 27 February, (on time and on budget!) our pretty ambitious new online version with links directly to relevant resources as well as downloadable pdfs, an archive function so advisers can keep a record of previous rules and guidance, personal tools for retrieving searches, bookmarking pages and the option to sign up for alerts if substantial changes are made and finally, space on the home page for UKCISA to highlight any information relating to repeated advice line queries (or to let members know that a page is awaiting an edit).
It has been tested by some of your colleagues and we hope and believe that it will prove to be a really valuable addition to the UKCISA membership package. The log-in will be the same as you currently use and do remember of course that whilst you will have only had a very few copies of the printed Manual in the past, you can give your institutional log-in to access the new resource to as many of your colleagues as you like, so the numbers benefitting should be hugely increased.
Do spread the word – and we will shortly be doing so through e-news, social media and even I understand specially designed postcards which you can give to your friends and colleagues!
Other publications – and the grants and research scheme
Primary Contacts will also have received last month copies of reports on the major research projects which we were able to support last year. These are available online in various formats but if anyone would like additional (printed) copies please do contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Together with our earlier publication on the institutional grants projects we are now establishing quite a bank of good practice materials which we hope are of value to all and again do please make your colleagues aware of them.
We also attempt to track and log related reports by others and I was very interested to see the recent report on ‘International students’ transitions into Scottish higher education’ and to be reminded recently of the report by colleagues at Warwick ‘Chinese students' social integration into the university community: Hearing the students' voices’which is again well worth a close study.
Visits to member institutions
In fact ‘integration’ was, un-surprisingly, one of the themes which came up in discussions I had with students and staff at two institutions which I visited this month (which might remain nameless but many thanks to Polly and Alan and Bethan for arranging!).
As well as a general comment that at a time of much anxiety for especially EU (but perhaps all) international students and with so much rhetoric about our national ‘welcome to foreigners’, all of us and all our institutions may well need to do even more to reach out to, invest in and demonstrate the support we give.
Most of the students I met were though extremely positive about the vast majority of their experiences in the UK which is, when one spends so much time on the problems, so refreshing to hear!
Members come and members go
In general we have a pretty stable membership base (all HEIs, most internationally active FEs and over 90 students unions) but some do on occasions withdraw and sadly we are seeing numbers of FE colleges deciding that they can no longer be members often as they have decided no longer to be Tier 4 sponsors.
But on the other hand, others join and we were pleased to give reciprocal membership recently to the Chartered Association of Business Schools (CABS) who will help to ensure that all our advice and guidance reaches all of their members and have recently re-affirmed our relationship with the British Council and reminded them that any of their colleagues overseas (or in the UK) can access any of our member benefits (including the password protected parts of our website).
Annual Conference – Exeter
We hope that they and many of you will have the dates of our Annual Conference firmly in your diaries (28-30 June 2017) and many thanks indeed to so many of you (over 70) for submitting proposals to present at sessions.
The programme is now firming up very nicely with opening plenaries by both our President, Lord Karan Bilimoria (who usually has some pretty trenchant comments to make!) and Exeter’s VC, Sir Steve Smith, over 50 parallel sessions, a closing plenary with Anna Lacey (Home Office Student Policy) and Ollie Carlisle (Head of PBS Study Operations) and a host of social events from a barbeque on the first night to (I understand) a traditional Devon cream tea!
Bookings will open in April. A number of possible sponsors and exhibitors have already expressed interest in supporting and if you know of any others who might like to be involved, do let us know or refer them to a special brochure which will be up on the conference pages by the end of this month.
UKCISA’s Board and Committees
Finally, many of the points I’ve covered - and many more from the budget for next year to webinars, work with students unions and plans for our 50th anniversary conference in 2018 - will be discussed when our Board meets next week together with our two advisory committees, Finance and General Purposes and Services and Representation.
There are likely to be a couple of new places becoming available on the Board when we come to elections in May so if you might be interested in standing, please look out for the notice then.
And whether you are on the Board or not we will also soon be looking for several new members of the Finance Committee so if you have skills and interests in that area and would like to help to oversee the management of the organisation, please let me know.
We are, of course, a membership body, and it is the members who oversee our work, support what we do, help to influence our policies and services and ensure that all that we do, as our objectives say, ‘encourage best practice, professional development and the highest quality of institutional support for international students throughout the education sector’.
Dominic Scott, Dominic Scott, Chief Executive, UKCISA