ELT industry protests possible visa changes

03 December 2009

Concern is mounting in the English language training (ELT) industry about possible changes to the Points Based (PBS) visa system. Although only introduced in February 2009, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) has now announced a wide-ranging review of the student visa application system, with serious implications for students and schools alike. The announcement caught many in the industry by surprise, as not only is the current system less than 6 months old but a key element – the electronic Sponsor Management System – is not due to come online until February 2010.

English UK, the national association of English language schools, is working with accredited training providers like Bell Educational Trust, to lobby against the changes. Bell has written to the MPs representing all its UK schools, explaining their concerns, outlining the impact on their local economy and asking the MPs to add their voices to the debate.

Bell is also encouraging its staff and partners to sign an ‘e-petition’ on the 10 Downing street website which calls on the Government to, ‘abandon attempts to restrict international students' access to the best educational system in the world through the review of the points-based system’.

‘One of our main concerns is the indiscriminate nature of these changes,’ says Will Kinsman, Bell’s Director of Sales and Marketing. ‘The Government is proposing to raise the minimum level of English required by students before they arrive in Britain from the current Common European Framework level of A2. This could prevent thousands of legitimate students being granted visas.’

‘What is more, we believe that the proposals could seriously damage the British ELT sector’s ability to compete in the highly lucrative market for delivering English language training overseas. Although the UK ELT market is reckoned to be worth an impressive £1.5bn pa, this is dwarfed by the size of the ‘in-country’ ELT market and anything which compromises the UK operations of providers such as Bell will also compromise their overseas activities too.’

Kinsman is also concerned about plans to force students to return home between university preparation courses and degree courses. ‘Thousands of students take IELTS preparation or university foundation courses in the UK before going on to study within the British Higher Education system. Insisting on them returning to their own country first would be akin to a Michelin-starred restaurant asking diners to return home after their appetiser before ordering their main course!’

While the potential negative impact on students and schools is clear, Bell believes the biggest loser would be the UK economy. In the city of Cambridge alone, where Bell has its Head Office and where it has had a school since 1955, EFL students are estimated to bring £78 million a year into the local economy, providing jobs for hundreds of people from teachers, administrators and examiners to host families, leisure workers and catering staff.

On November 23rd, in a speech at the CBI conference, Gordon Brown declared, ‘you know in your own businesses what it takes to create worldwide operations; how important it is to… focus on growth and to attract investment.’ ELT businesses may be forgiven for wondering how they will grow their worldwide operations in the face of these latest proposals.


Media and press enquiries:

Caroline Davidson
PR and Marketing Executive
Bell International
Red Cross Lane
Cambridge, CB2 0QU

Telephone: +44 (0)1223 275567
Fax: +44 (0)1223 414080

Notes to Editors

About Bell

Bell is a leading educational charity and one of the largest British-owned providers of English language education services. Each year, Bell helps over 100,000 students, from more than 120 countries through one of its 37 worldwide teaching centres and e-channels, primarily to learn English and other languages. Bell operates 9 centres in the UK, including a boarding school for international students.

The organisation also provides teacher training, educational management, consultancy and project services to international organisations, universities and governments.

About English UK

English UK is the national association of accredited English language centres. Formed in 2004 from two previous associations (the Association of Recognised English Language Services and the British Association of State English Language Teaching), English UK has around 400 member centres in private schools, educational trusts and charities, further education colleges and universities. All members are accredited under the Accreditation UK scheme, which is run in partnership between the British Council and English UK.

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Will Kinsman, Director of Sales & Marketing