Higher Education Policy Institute [HEPI] estimates GBP 2 billion potential loss for UK

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by Danny Harrington, Founder & Director, ITS Education Asia


A report published on Thursday by the HEPI makes grim reading for the higher education sector in the UK. While the reports highlights there are a number of potential financial benefits to universities from the UK leaving the EU, when proposed visa restrictions are factored in, not only are these reversed, they are completely annihilated to the tune of a potential loss to the wider UK economy of a staggering 2 billion pounds.

We have been reporting [see blog roll] on the various changes to student visa rules for while, noting changes to the right to work post-study and bring dependents since 2012 [under Theresa May, Home Secretary] and the proposed cut of over 55% of higher education student visas alongside a tiered system for universities awarding places to international students [under Theresa May, Prime Minister]. The HEPI report puts some financial backing to the impacts these measures have had so far and will have in the future. The HEPI is respected and reasonably independent and has co-written the report with London Economics and Kaplan International, both big and respected organisations. The data for the report was also provided by the Higher Education Statistics Agency – HESA.

In other words, this is a serious report by serious people and it should not be dismissed. Experts are under attack in the media at the moment in a ludicrous attempt to reduce proper argument to shouting matches and control of soundbites in the public domain. Hopefully, the number of heavyweights behind this report will allow it to be given the proper consideration it deserves.

In short, the report highlights that:

  • the depreciation of sterling could attract and extra 20,000 non-EU students and although there may also be a 50%+ reduction of ED students the net financial again would be around 180 million pounds.
  • More benefit will accrue to top universities than to lower, but benefits should accrue across the sector nevertheless
  • the post-graduate sector has seen some benefit from the removal of work-rights after under-graduate degrees [students delaying UK study]
  • global economic forces may see increased global GDP benefit UK education enrolment, especially from oil-rich economies.

However, the crucial fact is that extra 20,000 students. If they don’t come because of the immigration politics being played out then they will not offset losses of EU students and the economy will suffer:

“£463 million a year less in tuition fees for higher education institutions;

£604 million a year less in non-tuition fee expenditure; and

£928 million a year less from the detrimental impact on universities’ supply chains (known as ‘the indirect and induced effects’).” [HEPI report]

Surely this is not what Leave voters had in mind last year. It highlights the dangers of simplifying arguments too much. It is not a case of immigrants being a pure cost and drain on the economy and resources. Generally immigrants bring net gains in all areas and these numbers begin to show how.

Students concerned about visas for UK study can consider doing their qualifications from outside UK for example with ITS Education. Contact us for more info.

Students turning away from UK universities as rules kick in

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by Danny Harrington, Founder & Director, ITS Education Asia


We have reported on how the UK government is targeting up to 170,000, possibly more, student visas as a way to cut immigration [which seems to have become a political must and is seeing very little serious opposition]. The Guardian has published an excellent article highlighting how this is actually building on rules targeting student “migrants” since 2012. The key changes already implemented have been in altering what is allowed for students work-wise both during and after their course.

Students at private colleges can no longer work at all, while those at public institutions are allowed 20 hours per week during term-time and full-time work in the holidays. The rule for private colleges was to crack down on bogus ones offering a back door to working in the UK. This is clearly lazy government and goes against all principles of a modern and open society. It effectively says everyone is guilty and there is no chance to prove you are innocent i.e. a bona fide student or a bona fide educational institution.

After graduation, students used to be able to work for up to 2 years with very little restriction. Now they must work in an approved, graduate level job earning at least GBP20,800 per year [very few of them around] and they cannot be joined by dependents. Those who support these policies point to the drop off in students from paces such as India and say “Aha, what a success, immigration is being cut and clearly these people just wanted a back door to work in the UK.” Utter nonsense. What has happened is that the UK economy is deprived of large numbers of productive, bright, motivated people who will return tax income to the country in the short-term and may well bring many long-term benefits as they build a career and possible international networks. It deprives universities of the additional income they get from international students. It deprives society of the vibrancy of a multi-cultural environment. Not only that, but it sends all those top-end, high quality people off to other countries that will welcome them such as the US, Canada and Australia and it weakens the attraction of UK universities when they are feeling even more competition for good minds and research funding as the Asian universities begin to make themselves felt.

Luckily, the esteem with which UK qualifications are held in overseas job-markets will maintain at least some continued demand for UK education. But to rely on it is short-sighted and eventually we may see a greatly reduced demand for UK qualifications.

How easily understood are you?

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by Sue Smith  Director of ITS Exam Services


While English might only be the third largest language in terms of mother tongue speakers (behind Mandarin and Spanish) English is the world’s most widely spoken language – thanks to the number of people for whom English is a second (or sometimes third) language. English is also being used widely as a common or shared language among people who have different mother tongues. How does a Chinese business owner speak with his or her Japanese counterpart? – probably using English.

However, do native speakers of English consider how their use of the language might sound to speakers of other languages? In particular, speakers of other languages have often learnt or studied English and usually have a more explicit understanding of the grammar of English.  They are also less likely to be able to grasp the meaning of everyday usage of English if a variety other than standard English is being used.

So where are the pitfalls for native English speakers when communicating with speakers of other languages and how can they modify their own language use to make themselves more intelligible?

The first place to start is with speed.  The speed with which you speak the language might be impeding communication. For someone who is a learner of a language it is not usually the language itself that makes it difficult to understand what is being said, it is the speed at which the message is being delivered. And as many native English speakers have little or no experience with learning another language, they often fail to understand this.  Any secondary school student who has tried to grapple with a Spanish sitcom or French news report in an endeavor to increase their exposure to and fluency of a target language knows this and it should be something which guides English speakers when speaking to those whose first language is not English.  Of course, the volume at which you speak a language is of little help, as anyone who has witnessed a tourist trying to communicate with hotel or restaurant staff can attest.  Raising your voice will not help get your message through although considerably slowing down the speech with which you speak, might.

Your choice of vocabulary might also be impeding your message.  As any English speaker is well aware, there are different varieties of English. Most speakers of English are very familiar with the variety spoken in their own home country and, due to the ubiquitous influence of TV shows from the United States, many are also familiar with American slang and colloquial language. But that doesn’t mean that all speakers of English share this familiarity.  I am quite confident I could carry on a fairly lengthy conversation in Australian English with another Australian, while effectively excluding speakers who are not familiar with that variety of English, including native speakers.  I remember my surprise when I used the word ‘fortnight’ with an American many years ago and he asked me how long that was.  “Fortnight” is a common word for a period of two weeks in Australia and in England but that was my first experience of typical English language vocabulary not being universally understood.  A word which I had taken to be a common one, was actually one in usage regionally. If this communication problem can arise between native speakers of English who are familiar with different varieties of the language, imagine how much more likely this is to occur with speakers for whom English is not a first language.

Family and friends in my native Australia often comment that my speech has become ‘very American’ by my time of living abroad.  What they mean is that I now choose vocabulary which is, to my mind, more internationally understood.  This is because I am used to communicating with second language English speakers who have considerable exposure to American TV shows and are therefore more likely to be familiar with vocabulary they hear on those shows – which is of course going to be from the American variety of English.  So, while the vocabulary choices are more American the reason is not that I’ve forgotten that Australian term, it is because I am used to making a choice about a word that I feel is more likely to be understood. While the existence of many varieties of English adds a rich diversity to the way we communicate, it shouldn’t become a barrier.

Native speakers of English can do a lot to make sure they are more easily understood when speaking to colleagues, acquaintances and those they encounter from other cultures and countries.  And since the purpose of language is to communicate, you can facilitate this goal by slowing down your speech and speaking a bit less like you would at home.

5 things they didn’t tell you about…..exams

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by Danny Harrington, Founder & Director, ITS Education Asia


If you’re reading, this you likely have exams in your life and they may well be looming. I’m not talking about a class quiz or even a year-end school test, I’m talking real exams – public examinations – the kind that can help determine the direction your entire life can take. The kind you only do when you’re old enough – to round off secondary school, college or university. So here’s five things to help you approach them…..

  1. The opening paragraph you just read is way over the top and sounds like your mum/dad/school principal/any other concerned person in your life. Exams do not determine the outcome of your life. They give you options for sure. You’re not going to go to Oxford with two grade D A-levels or 28 points at IB. Equally, you could go to Oxford without perfect grades. They are just one of many elements of the admissions process.
  2. Who wants to go to Oxford anyway? There is no such thing as the “best” school/college/university. The “best” course is the one that suits you best – your talents, your likes and so on. Be brave enough to aim for what you want not what someone else wants for you.
  3. An exam is only an audit. It will test you on a small slice of the course. if the exam covers 10% of the course and you get 9/10 then they assume you know 90% of the course. Potentially this means you could score top marks only having learned 10% of the course. This is high risk strategy but the principle is sound.
  4. So if you don’t need to know the whole course, don’t learn the whole course. Work out from the exam structure how much you must know to have a good shot and then do really, really well at it. You may need help here. Ask an expert. And note that exams are not all about the content, they test skills as well. You could say that these skills include learning how to play the exams game.
  5. Not everyone is wired to perform well in exams. Exams are the default measure used in most education systems but they are not perfect. They do not measure intelligence, ability to do well at work, value as a human being…I could go on. If you have worked out that you do not do well in exams because they are exams; if every strategy to play the exam game has fallen short. Then move away from exams. If you’re bad at tennis you don’t try out for the tennis team. Bad at exams? Don’t do exams. There are plenty of well respected assignment/project-based qualification frameworks. BTEC is one.

So choose your place of learning, courses and type of assessment carefully. Avoid exams if that is a smart move for you. If you’re ok with them, learn how to play the game even better. Above all, don’t stress. Easier said than done, but those of us who’ve been there can say it. Most of the world did not ace their exams. And life goes on.

ITS Education Asia teachers are experts at helping students approach exams in an effective, low stress way. Whether is be one-to-one specific help or a revision class, ITS will help you perform to your potential. Support is available in our Hong Kong schools or online.

UK government gives stronger indication on cutting student visas

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by Danny Harrington, Founder & Director, ITS Education Asia


As we reported back in October, the UK government is looking at making cuts to the number of student visas granted for university study as a means to make inroads to the total immigration figures. To recap, immigration has become a political “issue” over the past couple of years – the UK has a net immigration of some 300,000 people per year – and it was likely to have been one of the key ideas that led to so many people voting to leave the European Union.

Public opinion has the idea that growing the population by 300,000 migrants per year is somehow bad for the country. The same old tropes about “stealing” jobs and putting a “burden on resources” are wheeled out and seem to get the most attention in the media thus reinforcing them. Very little time is given to the productivity increases, the economic growth, the spending rather than saving of money, the enrichment of education, culture and the arts, the long-term network of economic and cultural links that are produced. The list goes on.

The lack of common sense being applied here just goes to show how politicised the debate has become. The government clearly feels it needs to “do something” to get public opinion on its side. It probably feels it is in a weak position right now and has one eye on up coming by-elections and the next general election which will all continue to be fought over Brexit – its key elements and its fallout. And as with so much these days, the whole thing is reduced to numbers, principally with a currency sign at the front.

So the Home Office has now made it clear it is looking at slashing 170,000 student visas per year from UK universities. That’s over half the current number. If you want to do economics, that’s 50% less money coming into the UK’s hard pressed higher education institutions from international students who pay much more for their courses as well. That’s 170,000 students who will go elsewhere to study and take not only their tuition fees to other countries but all the money they spend on rent, food, books, entertainment and so on. That’s a huge chunk of young, vibrant, clever, motivated people who will go on to jobs in other companies in other countries and stimulate their economies instead of the UK. That’s 50% fewer students to build economic, cultural and academic links between the UK and other countries in the future. And that’s 50% less of everything, 170,000 fewer people doing all these things every single year from now on.

The government has also confirmed its tier system of institution licences to recruit from overseas. Under this policy, institutions which have greater than a 10% visa refusal rate on the students it admits [some say it may be as low as 7%] will have their licence to give places to overseas students revoked. Given the government holds absolute discretionary powers over the award of visas, this means that by extension they now have de facto control of academia through the ability to cut off what is often a crucial funding lifeline for many institutions. This is a shockingly bad step. In a modern democracy, government simply cannot hold such a threat over education

It seems the politicians never learn. The UK refused Hong Kongers full passports in the years leading up to the handover back to China and so the the wealthiest and brightest went to Canada which welcomed them and modern Vancouver was created [simplifies I know, but that’s the gist]. If these plans are implemented, the same mistake will be the UK’s loss and somewhere else’s gain at a much larger scale. It is incredibly sad, especially when UK qualifications remain so well respected and desired all over the world.

Have you had visa problems for university study in the UK? ITS Education Asia can help. Our online BTEC provides years 1 & 2 of a UK degree and leads on to a final 3rd year for a full bachelors. All at a fraction of the price. Classes are live with expert lecturers and the BTEC has the advantage of being course assessed instead of exams. See here for details.

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