Category: Immigration

Fairer Home Office regulations for smaller institutions

“The political imperative to tighten the numbers of immigrants entering the country must be balanced against the need for a fair system for all institutions”

In the UK, concerns have been brewing for some time that strict Home Office regulations – including the cap on the number of visa refusals institutions are permitted to keep operating – may be disproportionately harming smaller institutions, writes Alex Bols, deputy chief executive of GuildHE. What can be done to remedy the situation?

The UK has a world-class higher education system, the strength of which is – at least in part – the result of the huge diversity of universities, of all sizes and specialisms.

Many students deliberately choose to study in a smaller or more specialist institution because of the world-class facilities as well as the safer and more personalised experience that they will receive and these opportunities should be available to the many international students wanting to study in the UK.
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Alex Bols is Deputy Chief Executive of GuildHE – one of the recognised representative bodies for UK higher education. In addition to working in UK higher education he was also Secretary General of the European Students’ Union.

International education as an industry: “only talent that has truly been educated is an asset to an economy”

“Teaching and learning is not an industrial process; it is a human endeavour with all the triumph and tribulation that comes with it”

Hanneke Teekens, Chair of the Board at AFS Intercultural Programmes in the Netherlands and former member of the board of directors of the Netherlands Organization for International Cooperation in Higher Education (NUFFIC), writes on attitudes towards international education, asking how helpful it is to approach it as an ‘industry’.

Over the years I have resisted the term ‘ the industry’ when referring to the internationalisation of higher education. Perhaps because I am a non-Anglo, coming from a tradition of public and affordable higher education that is seen as a non-commercial good. But ask any person in the street what is meant by ‘the industry’ and nobody would come up with international higher education. In other words, it is an in-crowd term in ‘our circle’ that is best avoided with a wider audience.

Moreover, using this terminology denies the specific context of education. Producing knowledge, to stay with the vocabulary of the market, is built upon a relationship that involves teaching and learning and not one of selling and buying. Education requires personal involvement of both teacher and student. A student must want to learn. The affective part of learning is the first step and requires an attitude of curiosity and engagement. In international education even more so.

Sure, diploma mills can sell a diploma and they do, but that does not mean anything has been taught and learned. Education is an intrinsic cultural and social good, with clearly a strong economic impact. Teaching and learning is not an industrial process; it is a human endeavour with all the triumph and tribulation that comes with it. Universities have a long tradition of imbuing society with critical thinking and innovation. It is essential for our industrial society to acknowledge that autonomous role.

“Universities have a long tradition of imbuing society with critical thinking and innovation. It is essential for our industrial society to acknowledge that autonomous role”

Education is not for free and neither is it cheap. Some parts of the world have capacity issues and declining enrolment of home students in other countries makes the inflow of foreigners an attractive option – on the one hand to help battered finances, but also to enhance the quality of education.

Moreover, international graduates are considered important ambassadors and increasingly are seen as potential immigrants to strengthen the workforce. Talent is on the move and there is no denial that economic considerations are a top priority. But only talent that has truly been educated is an asset to an economy. Hordes of people with a whole list of impressive degrees, but with no competencies to deal with globalised working and living conditions will feel frustrated and so will business and industry. More research on how to improve the relevance of international education for the international workplace is clearly needed.

“Hordes of people with a whole list of impressive degrees, but with no competencies to deal with globalised working and living conditions will feel frustrated and so will business and industry”

I write these lines high above the clouds from Amsterdam to Brazil, where later this week I will present at the Faubai conference in Joinville. My workshop concerns the impact of international student mobility on the home institution. The main question addresses the curriculum. How do we prepare all graduates, both home and international, to deal with globalised working and living conditions?

I kill time and read a whole stack of papers and journals. One article really catches my attention. The headline is ‘From Communism to Catholic school’ , by Kyle Spencer. (International NY Times, April 8, 2014). The accompanying picture shows us a pensive 18-year-old Di Wang, one of 39 Chinese students at a suburban school in New Jersey. The article informs us that Ms. Wang wants to continue to go to college in the US but will remain an atheist. At the same time the director of the seminar that teaches the basics of Catholicism comes to the conclusion that unless you know about Jesus it is going to be really difficult. Fortunately Di Wang sometimes prays to thank God for a beautiful day and the DePaul Catholic High School receives a wonderful fee.

In the end Ms. Wang sums up her learning experience as ‘do good, avoid evil’. It is an insight that Confucius came up with centuries before the Catholic Church even came to exist. More importantly, or downright worrying, is the fact that Di Wang may never be aware of this.

A Skilled Migrant writes….

Arundati Dandapani, graduated international student in the UK, shares her experience of seeking permanent employment in the UK..

“Life as a foreign student in the UK can be challenging to say the least.  I have encapsulated my experiences over the past year as a Publishing graduate on a tier 4 student visa in a format that I hope is both interesting and useful to readers of the PIE:

The end of a worker-friendly era: backed by a simple liberal arts degree from America and with four years of working at writing and editing jobs in India, I applied for a Masters in the UK, fully intending to work there after studies. At the time of application, I was entitled to two years of Post Study work, as well as qualify for Fresh Talent Scotland, but then an angry bout of youth riots wrecked the streets causing panic in the British parliament and in homes. Quickly in April 2012, the Post Study work permit that earlier allowed non-EEA students to stay on for two years on the condition of a job offer (from any company) was repealed, leaving me with a small fistful of potential employers or publishers to approach. These were what I memorised to be 1500 pages of licensed sponsors as approved by the UKBA.

“I had to apply to 105 places to actually get called in to 10 interviews”

Education is a purely commercial enterprise:  and one has to demand value for it. Professors will limit availability, answer emails rarely, and restrict office hours. They will wax and wane about being more academic than insightful, and, you have to customise your degree to suit your own good priorities: be it a job offer, professional networks, grades, or leisure holidays. I focussed on a job priority, and failed, although I did gain a few good professional experiences in the bargain.

People won’t mix with you: It is a close-knit society, but if you find a group of like-minded or other professionals with whom you can share simple working hours with, CLING until it blossoms into something. A year is not enough to make friends in Great Britain, but at least some good working relationships are a goldmine.

The Job market is suspicious of you: I had to apply to 105 places to actually get called in to 10 interviews. They all declared my CV impressive and predicted I’d “go far.” How much farther! I would protest. By the time my dream job opening came up in the middle of December, I had already booked my tickets back to India, as I neared the expiry date on my visa.

Internships are contentious: You don’t have a national insurance number and nobody asks for it at your internship, they may not even look at your passport. Employers are not paying you a minimum wage, and yet the more interning you do, the better you get a chance at actual employment. Six internships got me a fixed term employment as an ebooks assistant.

“A year is not enough to make friends in Great Britain, but some good working relationships are a goldmine”

Cold Calls to Every Employer on the Register of Sponsors! On tele-calling every publisher featured on the UKBA’s register of sponsors, some claimed unaware of their UKBA status, and when I explained, they said upfront that they had no “quota” left, and would not consider my application if I did not have an existing work permit.  I replied that although  I had a student visa that allowed me to work fulltime until January, I could only apply for a proper work visa after I had a job offer in hand, so couldn’t I still apply? The response was negative.

Nobody wants you: Graduation drew near, and classmates who barely talked to me opened their mouths only to ask me, “When are you going home?!” When the annual London Book Fair happened, I knew London was it. People were actually interested in my skills, ideas and were actually having conversations about publishing. Internships took shape, and I narrowed the longer term prospects, focussing my job search to publishing alone (although I did approach a bakery and some advertising agencies who were licensed sponsors), because only a handful of international publishers were eligible to sponsor a tier 2 non-EEA migrant.

Talk to Everybody: I applied to 105 places, got called to 10. Interviewers called me interesting, adventurous and a lot of other adjectives that I quickly realised were not helping my case. They were perhaps referring to the geographic diversity I was used to. After learning the lingo of career centres and speaking with recruitment consultants and insiders from the industry at publishing events, I took a few more hints.

“Increase the extent of student visas issued to migrant labour, to offer time for job search”

Failure makes you stronger: Only about three publishers were actually explicit about an open and willing policy to hire, but by the time I qualified for any eligible positions within these companies and by the time their vacancies opened, it was the middle of December. After having completed over six internships alongside my degree studies and a fixed term employment within a hot market function of publishing, I had lost eventually.

Office Gossip (not love) makes the world go round: Towards the rundown to Christmas and near the end of my fixed term at a publishing house, colleagues took turns commenting, “What a pity they did not renew your contract.” They knew I was on a fixed term contract, my nationality was different, my length of stay would be limited to the duration of tasks, and so, short term, etc..

Three weeks into my job, another candidate was taken on to fill the same duties towards what immediately struck me as eventual permanence at a lower salary than if they had decided to sponsor me. Colleagues delighted in this set-up for rivalry. By the end of my tenure I was itching to depart, the daily six-hour round trip commute only got longer as we nudged sub-zero temperatures, and constant delays caused by flooding and regular suicides on the railway tracks. The only things that got me through those months were my persistence and positivity.

Is Britain unprepared for a diverse workforce? Britain is a tiny country that cannot sustain its own recession, but Norway is not bigger than Britain, and yet offers more diversity in the workplace and by about 2050 about half its population will be taxpaying migrants/immigrants. If UK businesses do not take initiative to look outwards, the government will not make it its business. UK’s businesses are built around individuals whose mindsets and openness towards skilled migrants will only determine how dynamic or multicultural the UK workplace actually is.

Going by the passionate words of London Mayor Boris Johnson or Scottish Cabinet Secretary of Education Mike Russell, one would be inclined to believe that UK desires foreign students and flexible work rules for non-EEA migrants. But if the UK is actually serious about increasing its intake of foreign students and not losing out to Canada or Australia — destinations with an edge of more flexi work rules, then I can propose the following two ways in which to rectify the current situation:

  1. Increase the extent of student visas issued to migrant labour, to offer time for job search (My American fellow students enjoyed a longer term visa than myself).
  2. Allow non-EEA students who have graduated from the UK to apply for a tier 2 visa even after they return to their home country without complications. Let there be some incentive to studying in the UK.

When skilled foreign graduates from UK universities are not viewed with the same professional parity as Europeans or migrants from other privileged economies in the Great British workplace, it signals both mistrust and xenophobia. In a world where everyone is looking for collaborations and looking outwards, it is a pity that the UK is not encouraging of foreign workers and ensuring a dynamic or diverse workplace.

Arundati Dandapani is very shortly returning to India after completing her Masters at the University of Stirling, UK.

Interview visa applicants and let them work

The idea of interviewing the candidates in the countries of their origin is good [to be introduced in Pakistan by UKBA]. This will help, although is not guaranteed, to assess the intentions of the students. The major incentive of interviewing the candidates back home is that the Entry Clearance Officers (ECOs) would be able to assess the English language competency of students, especially in the event of many students producing fake IELTS or other SELT (Secured English Language Test) result.

One counter-argument could be that ECOs are not trained or qualified to assess somebody’s English competency. In response to this, I would like to say that even a non-native speaker of proficient English communicating with somebody can assess whether the person in front is able to speak English or not.

Therefore, one does not need a qualification to assess somebody’s English. Ideally, having trained personnel is excellent but not mandatory. If we talk about idealism, one must also be assessed in their English writing capability. Universities do include a section in their application forms which requires the candidate to summarise their profile, past experience and future ambitions. This must help in the assessment but should be taken as an additional step and not the only tool.

Proficiency in English language is vital if you are coming to study in an English-speaking country to study. Once these measures are implemented strictly, there is no harm in providing work opportunities to international students as work experience will help them to enhance their learning.

While on their course of study, students have to submit assignments based on their experiential curve. Work experience can help the students to implement what they have learnt at the workplace in their course work and vice versa. Work is coherent to their studies and international students must not be deprived of that.

Post-study work will help the international students to gain vital experience and apply what they have learnt. They will enrich themselves by learning work practices different from their home countries and will transport the experience back home.

Curtailing work experience and post-study work could be likened to depriving the students from gaining valuable experience which is an integral part of learning process.

What the government can do, in order to discourage the students from staying in UK permanently is to remove the post-study work visa from contributing towards the residency and permanent settlement.

These measures can ensure that only genuine students come to UK to study and work and leave the country after their purpose is achieved.

Murad Ali.

Murad Ali works as an Operations Manager for a private independent college in the UK.  He has been in this industry for five years and started as a lecturer.