Tuesday, 7 December 2010

This new Home Office consultation exercise is a disgrace

The Home Office has launched a "consultation exercise" on its plans to tighten up visa requirements for foreign students. I use the scare quotes advisedly. The public and interested parties are invited to "Contribute your views to our consultation into how we can best reduce the number of students who can come to the UK". The Border Agency has no interest in hearing from people who question the desirability of a substantial reduction in student numbers; does not indeed seem to believe that such people even exist.

The consultation is based on a questionnaire - which you can fill out via Survey Monkey - which is so formulated as to preclude dissenting opinions.

Here's an example:

2. Do you think that only Highly Trusted Sponsors (HTS) should be permitted to offer study below degree level (at NQF levels 3, 4 and 5 / SCQF levels 6, 7 and 8) in the Tier 4 (General) category?

  • Yes – only HTS should be able to offer these sub-degree level courses
  • No – all sub-degree level study should be prohibited under Tier 4 (General)
  • No – study at NQF level 3 should be prohibited, even where the sponsor is a HTS
  • Don't know

In other words, if you believe that sub-degree level courses should be available from a wider range of providers you have no box to tick. If you believe that the status quo should be maintained, you have no box to tick. Only if you believe that the Home Office proposals are insufficiently draconian can you enter an alternative.

Regardless of whether or not the Home Office proposals are desirable or proportionate, this is a disgraceful way to canvas public opinion. It will also ensure that the results of the consultation have no credibility.

UPDATE Full Fact has some eye-opening material on the misuse of research by the Home Office in this area. It turns out that the much-trumpeted claim that 26% of foreign students fail to comply with the terms of their visas relate to those institution that were under investigation by the UK Border Agency for irregularities, rather than to students as a whole.