Some detail emerges on the international crackdown

So the graduate route lives on.

Jim is an Associate Editor at Wonkhe

But the thing about the Westminster government swapping out formal changes to the immigration rules for a series of other measures is that said measures don’t get lost to the prorogation and dissolution of Parliament.

And the other thing is that the measures involve issues that the sector doesn’t really want to admit are a problem – and so will find it hard to argue against continued implementation to Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper if she’s in government by the summer.

Underneath the headlines of the press notice, some detail on what’s being done has emerged – and the timeline that officials have been given.

In a letter from Tom Pursglove, Minister of State for Legal Migration and the Border to Diana Johnson (Chair of the Home Affairs Committee), there’s a reminder of all the ways in which the government has been working to reduce migration – and a timeline on the new measures announced yesterday.

The “tougher sponsorship standard” that is being applied to higher education institutions who wish to recruit international students is pencilled in for Autumn 2024.

We still don’t know whether that will involve raising the compliance standards, or just more strictly enforcing them through cuts to CAS allocation, or withdrawal of licence – but as a reminder, the current numbers are:

  • A visa refusal rate of less than 10 per cent
  • An enrolment rate of at least 90 per cent
  • A course completion rate of at least 85 per cent

Next we learn that the government will raise the financial maintenance requirements – so that students prove that they can financially support themselves whilst studying – for the January 2025.

The problem is that Pursglove says that the government will do so:

…in line with domestic maintenance loans.

“In line” doesn’t appear to mean “at the same time as”, so must mean “to match the amounts of”. But that would make no sense at all.

Right now, the amounts are £1,023 for each month of your course (up to a maximum of 9 months) if you’re studying outside London – and £1,334 for each month of your course (up to a maximum of 9 months), if you’re studying in London.

They are stupid amounts, not least because they’ve not been raised since before the pandemic and the whopping inflation crisis we’ve had in recent years.

9 x £1,023 = £9,207, so maybe the figure will go up to the maximum domestic maintenance loan figure (in England) of £10,227.

But that would be stupid too – and dangerous. It’s been a very long time since government pretended that the maximum loan was enough to live on. And given that I keep finding providers issuing the UKVI figure as a guideline to costs in the UK, it runs the risk of misleading international students into thinking that will be enough to live on.

And if it’s not – that runs the risk of international students not being able to pay their fees – and thus harming the odds of hitting that completion target.

Next up, Pursglove says that the review “with the sector” of how English Language standards for international students are assessed – with the objective of standardising independent assessment – is a summer job.

We already knew that September 2024 is when UKVI will roll out new definitions of “in person” and “remote” teaching to ensure students are “doing courses where face to face teaching is the predominant method of delivery”.

And it’s this summer when we’re apparently going to get a “rapid consultation” to ensure that international students currently at franchised providers are at “well-managed institutions which meet the requirements of the Office for Students”.

That’s interesting partly because in the recent Public Accounts Committee look at franchising, Department for Education boss Susan Acland-Hood piggybacked on to the Universities UK rapid review of agents, and the department’s own “rapid investigation” into the use of agents, to suggest that work would cover both international and domestic recruitment.

Notwithstanding that the Pursglove comments ignore devolved nations, it now looks like we may be getting a new condition of registration on franchising – or maybe some franchise-focussed amendments to the current ones, or maybe just some better enforcement of what’s there already – before the depths of summer kick in.

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