The true costs of new visa rules

15 March 2010

Stringent changes to the UK visa system will not only damage UK education businesses operating within Britain but could weaken the international competitiveness of the UK’s £28 billion training and education industry. That is the view of Bell Educational Trust, an education expert which has been teaching overseas students for more than 50 years. It believes that the government’s changes to the Tier 4 visa system will damage UK businesses more fundamentally than has been acknowledged.

While there has been heated debate in the education community over the new requirements – for example the raising of the minimum language level required to study English in the UK  and their impact on the UK-based ELT economy - there has been little recognition of the impact on the overseas operations of UK education businesses.

‘We are amazed that the government seems unable to recognise the potentially devastating consequences of the visa review, which we believe could be far more significant than previously reported,’ said Will Kinsman, Director of Sales and Marketing at Bell. ‘Not only do the visa changes create an unnecessary barrier for international students to study in the UK, they also undermine the UK’s reputation as a leading provider of education and potentially compromises its export capability.’ 

In a speech on 14 January Gordon Brown himself acknowledged that the total value of education and training exports to the UK economy in 2009 was £28 billion, significantly more than that of financial services exports at £19 billion (source: He also said that his government was ‘not prepared to put legitimate language courses, and schools and colleges out of business or set back our efforts to expand our educational trade.’

Yet industry insiders fear this is exactly what could happen. Globally recognised language and education organisations, such as Bell, could find their global operations damaged by events at home. Where once they operated prestigious language schools now they design educational solutions tailored to local requirements. Bell, for example, provides quality control and teacher development in Latin America, operates a British boarding school for international students in Kent, works in partnership with schools in China, and educates university students on what the EL Gazette called ‘the world’s biggest language project’ in Saudi Arabia.

This global reach is supported by a long-established trust in the ‘gold standard’ of British education. However, students in the Far East are increasingly looking to Canada and Australia for their English language training and higher education. Indeed, a recent survey by Language Travel Magazine revealed that in 2009 Australia became the top destination for Japanese students, with 25% choosing to study in Australia, compared to 19% in the UK.

‘The government needs to recognise that what happens in Britain does not stay in Britain’, says Kinsman. ‘At the moment we can build partnerships overseas based on the quality of our educational services and a reputation founded on over 50 years’ experience in the UK. Our UK-based teaching operations provide the perfect ‘shop window’ for our international expertise, although any reduction in students coming to the UK could well see this shop window closing – and that can only be bad news for UK educational exports ’


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.



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