UK needs to discover the “customer” in the students!!!

This is from an article that I first wrote in October 2009 and is being repeated for its topical relevance. Have added some comments on the just announced Student Visas Changes which I conclude as still “short on homework”.

Of the 18 (eighteen) years of our working, 2009 intake for UK has been most frustrating one for all of us in the education sector.  Although we did higher numbers as compared to 2008,, it could have been better handled. Students, parents, agents all had to come to terms with the changes introduced in the new point based system visa system which turned out to be an experiment riddled with potholes.

Every country has the right to experiment and improve and so does United Kingdom. However, the confusion, which the new system threw up, became quite frustrating even for the universities and the students. Those who attended the agent conclave organised by the British Council in Delhi in March 2009 will remember that the collective wisdom of the assembled gathering was that the new system will be abused (which it has been) and UK will get increased numbers of students of questionable quality. I had asked one last question at the event and that was “when will the experiment be reviewed?’

In view of the situation prevailing in some other destinations many felt that it would turn out to UK’ advantage, however, it did not! It is for the UK authorities to look into the system and fix it fast. If our students find is easy to get the visa, why should I complain! And I will not. However, I will complain if a student who pays a substantial visa fee is disadvantaged unfairly either due to inefficiency or gross mishandling of the process.  All concerned need to be aware of the disappointment on part of the genuine students whose visa application may not have been given adequate attention.

The most frustrating fact has been that some institutions have had to make as many as eight attempts sometimes to get the visa letter in a format that was acceptable to the visa office. Precious time was lost and students incurred considerable costs because several students were refused visa simply because the visa letter issued by the institution did not conform to the format that the visa officers were looking for.  Who should be held accountable for this mis-adventure? Certainly not the students, who have had to suffer loss of money and some, have lost a year!

The worst problem was to find that the regulations, that were meant to be transparent and helpful to the student turned out to be put to subjective interpretations that were applied inappropriately.

Almost all students had to reapply to get a new visa letter, provided there was time for the intake. The educational institutions worked overtime generously to provide extensions in order to enable the students to enrol this year.  But, the point being made remains untouched. The student who is paying a visa fee (increased visa fee) is also a customer expecting some level of service. If the visa is being denied for no fault of the student but due to the technicalities of the experimentation, should there be no compensation, even if it is a refund of the visa fee?

I still remain positive: UK will have to learn from 2009 and 2010 has to be a more efficient year. This article is also a feedback in that direction. I understand that the UK tier system is inspired by the Australian visa system. However, there are some missing links. Australia has provided transparency but has also categorised different countries based on the risk levels. UK has a uniform system for all countries whether it is Singapore or Bangladesh. Australia too requires an ECOE which is the basis of the visa, which provides all details of the enrolment.  However the ECOE is generated through a fool-proof system called, PRISMS which has no scope for any errors. On the other hand, UK visa letters are based on a template or an example provided that very often has errors. Let me also add that the Australian system will not begin with an incorrect ECOE and therefore there is no question of the student losing the visa fee. Wherever there is any document required, the system prompts the student to provide it. Since UK is following the Australian model, let it copy and pick up all its positive features.

The above article was penned and published in October 2009. The following is the comments being made today:

The just announced changes to the Student Visa regulations coupled with the forthcoming CAS implementation does address some of the worries. CAS seems to be modelled on the Australian ECOE anyway.

However, the prime thrust of the UKBA treating students as “customers” remains. Recently we have seen visas being refused on grounds that the Bank Logo has not been on the financial statements issued by the bank even when they were electronic statements. Somewhere there is an indication that in such cases is there is a bank stamp and signature plus a covering letter from the bank, this should be accepted. UKBA has accepted some visas with this and still disregarded this with others. Administrative Reviews should be handled giving priority and considering the start date of the programs but that has not happened and we have some very disgruntled “customers” who continue to seek redress.

One big question is whether the much hyped student visa changes going to correct all the loopholes that allowed “workers” to enter UK disguised as “students”?

My gut feeling is that IT WILL NOT.

  • The regulation change announcement seems to not comment on the financial requirements. Funds continue to be required as per the liberalised 28 days norms and with no question asked on the source of funds. This is precisely the area that caused all those with NO money to be able to show ADEQUATE money and from doubtful sources or from professional sponsors. These are the very “workers” that the UKBA wants to disqualify. Genuine students are not the one who need to use such sponsors. Unfortunately, the policy change remains silent.
  • English requirement has supposedly been increased. Increased to what??? Just below GCSE level English. What does this mean??? IELTS of 5.0-6.0 or Year 12 level English. Its certainly turning out to be a joke. The journalists have lapped it up and given it prominence with none trying to find out as to what is the equivalence of below GCSE level English in India.
  • Reduction of part time work permit for below-degree programs to 10 hours per week. This too is of no concern to those who anyway work many more hours in excess and for cash. Even those who wanted to work illegally when the allowance was 20 hours per week, rarely bothered about the limits and there were many options. The one who will be affected will be genuine students and not “workers”. Further what about so many shonky providers who also provide degree level studies.

My biggest fear is that UK seems to be copying not just the regulations BUT actually is repeating all the errors that has led to the “current issues” in Melbourne. Seems that Melbourne and Manchester are just two sides of the same coin. One of the outcomes of restrictive part time work permissions has been that many who are under pressure financially tend to work in risky jobs that pay in cash. This exposes them to avoidable circumstances. In Australia this is what happened and 9 out of 10 attacks have been on those who were working for cash and well beyond the permissible limits at risky hours and risky locations.

An issue to ponder upon.

7 Comments

  1. UK where I did my undergraduate studies in late fifties during last century was different. Present UK institutions are way behind many advanced countries.The policy makers are confused. They donot seem to have a long term perspective.All their current initiatives are incremental changes of a reactionary kind. No initiative is based on real data.

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  2. “Brand value” of the U.K Education is derived from the father of the nation – Mahatma Gandhi, who traveled to London in 1888 for his Higher Education at the University of London. Today number of labor migrants migrates to the UK under the student visa category of so called PBS system. My heart bleeds with the down fall of the UK Education brand as I have given my working life to establish / promote….

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    1. We guys who have actually had a role to promote and popularise the wide number of UK institutions remain “left out”. The growth in the UK numbers even in the University sector has largely been due to the popularisation of the second tier Universities in India. UK will wake up one day and will take comments from us too who are also stakeholders before they finalise regulations. This will save it from repeat blunders.

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  3. Hi Ravi

    I completely agree with your thoughts and your comment on Melbourne and Manchestor is absolutely correct. The mistakes of the Down Under is being followed by their long time competitors and critics the Union Jack and the outcome is evident. Genunine students are being refused visa for no fault of theirs leading to frustration as some of them loose a year which is so precious in their life span. There is confusion with regards to English requirement as to what is required or what is sufficient. In the olden days UK was considered the ultimate destination for quality education and our first Prime Minister and our current PM and many more learned people went to UK for further education and without any doubt they did gain quality education imparted by the quality institutions prevalent there. However, these quality institutions are still there but the mushrooming of the shonky providers offering degree courses now is defenetly compromising with the standard of UK Education which at one time was perhaps the best in the world. My contention is unless quick changes are implemented soon UK market will go the Aussie way !!

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    1. Bubbly, you are absolutely right that UK has traditionally been “THE” destination for Indian students and it has indeed adapted the ills that had appeared with the Ozzie system and now what we are seeing even by way of college closures is something we have seen in Australia a few months ago. There have been more than 200 colleges closed in UK and compared to the 15 that closed in Australia it is huge. However, the interesting thing to note is that there is relatively less fuss in Indian Media over the UK closures and there is no FISA there to sensationalise…

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      1. Yes Ravi I again agree that the closure of shonky colleges in UK is much higher as compared to Australia and the INDIAN media has been kind to UK for not highlighting this issue. Yes there is no FISA there and may be the Brits rule over India for more than 100 years still has some intimidating effect on our media to attack them so blatantly……….

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