Are universities ready for influx of overseas students?

If Indian students take up David Cameron’s open invitation to study in the UK, universities will need to ensure their visa processing systems are adequate

If Indian students take up David Cameron’s open invitation to study in the UK, universities will need to ensure their visa processing systems are adequate.

Cameron used his visit to India to announce that there would be no limit on the number of Indian students permitted to study in the UK. With a huge and growing middle class in India, the number of potential students is huge.

Universities need to harness IT if they are to cost-effectively retain their right to award visas to overseas students at a time when pressure is on their back offices as costs are being cut. The UK Border Agency (UKBA) has rules in place to ensure universities can carry out background checks and monitor students during and after courses.

Margaret Hodge, chair of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), said in a report last year that the UKBA has created a huge amount of bureaucracy for universities. With budgets being cut, universities must find less labour-intensive ways of checking student applications, monitoring those that are accepted once the course begins, and checking that students leave when visas expire.

UK education institutions gain important revenue through educating students from overseas. But they must ensure they comply with UKBA rules on processing and monitoring overseas students or they could lose their licences. 

The UKBA revoked London Metropolitan University's Highly Trusted Sponsor (HTS) status for sponsoring international students from outside the EU after it found irregularities in the university's administration of its immigration status and attendance records. Universities are currently under pressure to cut costs, but cannot risk losing an important revenue stream.

Software can help organisations meet UKBA rules without the need for significant resources by automating processes, said former UKBA director Don Ingham, now a consultant at Veristat, which specialises in supporting educational institutions in becoming UKBA compliant. 

Ingham said he and other former UKBA executives established Veristat to offer services to universities that want to meet UKBA rules to be HTSs with the ability to process visa applications for overseas students that apply to a course. 

“Technology can make the university more effective and lower cost,” said Ingham. To this end, Veristat is working with software supplier TSSi Systems.

The University of Exeter, itself a Highly Trusted Sponsor, is using IT to replace a manual system of processing overseas students to comply with UK Border Authority rules. The university must ensure that the 2,000 overseas students it enrolls every year are genuine. The TSSi Systems software, known as Validate, provides record keeping and information cross-checking for oversees students registered with the university. 

Lancaster University is also using the TSSi automation technology to comply with tighter UK Border Authority immigration checks.

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