The release of the ONS update on International student migration research came wrapped by two Home Office announcements; first the review by the Migration Advisory Committee and then their own report confirming Tier 4 were the most likely to leave on time.
Away from the very good news that Tier 4 has the best record of migrants returning home (we really do need to have longitudinal data on how many convert to Tier 1 or 2, retaining their skills in the UK) both the ONS and Home Office data showed how student migration has changed over 10 years.
The Home Office report goes into more detail on that trend, charting the ‘abuses’ it had dealt with, including:
From 2010 onwards a new sponsorship scheme was introduced, which required sponsors to apply for accreditation on an annual basis. This was originally through receipt of Highly Trusted Sponsor status, which was replaced with the Basic Compliance Assessment in 2015. Following this or as a result of subsequent enforcement action, licences were not renewed for over 900 FE colleges which were then not able to sponsor international students. In many cases these were colleges where there were concerns over compliance.
Here is the area that appears to have made the biggest difference to the overall numbers. They include charts which show student numbers in universities stay level, but those in Language Schools and especially ‘Further Education’ decline sharply.
The Home Office has the data on students’ sponsorship and there’s a very clear picture that the sharp rise and fall in ‘Further Education’ was in places that subsequently left the Tier 4 register.
This was reiterated in the Home Office’s press release about the MAC review:
Since 2010, this has included taking away the ability of more than 900 – often bogus or low quality – colleges to bring in international students.
And it featured in their messaging about the reports:
My attempts to understand the data on providers who have had their licences revoked means I’m interested in the number used. In the three documents it’s stated as ‘more than 900’ providers, ‘over 900 FE colleges’ and ‘over 920 low quality or bogus institutions’.
I know any of these aren’t true. The data the Home Office has sent me shows that while there are over 900 providers who have left the register, many of the names on the list are duplicates, or places that returned to the register, or perfectly reputable providers that either gave up or were turfed off the list because of the onerous requirements. It is good that the Home Office has stopped using the blanket label of ‘bogus’ for everyone, but ‘low quality’ won’t wash for places like Hereford Cathedral School or Magdalen College School – examples of the kind of places that have been temporarily dropped from the register.
Further more, the Home Office must be perfectly capable of drilling down into the ‘Further Education’ sector it describes. How much of the decline in sponsorship comes from small privately owned colleges that offered ‘diploma’ courses through accredited arrangements, but who stayed outside the standard FE or HE frameworks. If these were the targets – ‘low quality or bogus’ – then they should stop publicly doing down those providers who operate reputably. These include FE Colleges, whose ability to recruit international students arbitrarily curtailed because of a category they’ve been dropped into.
The Home Office should properly review the impact of removing providers in the 2010-2015 period. It should stop using an inflated number of ‘bogus’ colleges – especially to avoid it seeming they are doing so to distract from the discovery they’d been using an inflated number of over-staying students.