All will be aware that one of the key objectives in Vision 2021 is to maintain and enhance our international reputation. We do this in many ways of course, but a major aspect of this objective is our ability to attract international students to study and live in Newcastle. Overall we are very successful in this regard, and indeed at least one school in SAgE depends strongly on a large intake of international students.
Our ability to enrol these students is dependent on the UK Border Agency granting the relevant immigration status to these students. Potential students outside of the EEA who wish to study in the UK must apply for entry clearance. If this is granted, they have special permission from the UK government to enter and remain in the UK as a ‘Tier 4 immigrant’ during study. Tier 4 is the section of the immigration system that deals with student visas. NU, together with many other educational establishments, is known as a ‘Highly Trusted Sponsor’ (HTS) under Tier 4, on the basis of a proven track record of recruiting genuine students who comply with the UK’s immigration rules. Benefits of this status include for example the ability to offer a wider range of courses to international students. Despite the title, HTS institutions are not however ‘left to get on with it’ – there are regular checks that we are complying with the various regulations. This begs the question what would happen if we were to lose this status?
The answer to this question is currently being played out in the popular press – e.g. see here. I don’t think I need to add to this piece to emphasise the catastrophic impact it would have at NU. So how do we minimise the risk that this will happen to us? Quite simply, we need to ensure that we are compliant. This does not just mean saying we are compliant, but demonstrating that we are compliant. There will be regular spot-checks to inspect the evidence that we complying, and thus it is critical that we take this very seriously indeed. For example, one of the requirements is that we monitor student attendance on our courses, not just to demonstrate that a student is studying and working at NU, but also to demonstrate that a student is engaging with the course. This sounds easier than it is. For example, it would clearly be discriminatory to monitor the attendance of only certain students – we must monitor all students in a given cohort. I met earlier in the year with the Student’s Union Sabbatical Officers, who conveyed their concern that all students will be monitored in this way. Given the potentially dire consequences for the international students at London Metropolitan University, I hope it can be seen that we really have no choice in the matter. Moreover, it’s not just about monitoring attendance – that’s not rocket science – when a student goes AWOL it will be our responsibility to chase this up, which could involve an enormous time commitment.
I don’t want to sound like a prophet of doom. The SAgE Management Team and University Executive Board have been well aware of these issues for some time, and we have been ensuring that our processes and manpower resources are sufficiently robust to minimise any risk to NU. Where necessary we have employed additional staff to take care of the additional administrative burden. Why spend money on this rather than our principal strategic aims you may ask. Good question – but again we have no choice.
Despite robust processes and dedicated personnel, there will remain a risk unless everyone pays due diligence to this issue. As you can see from the above link, the price of non-compliance (or rather the inability to demonstrate compliance) is extremely high.