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Language school's concern at minister's bogus-visa fears; NUMBER OF STUDENTS FROM ABROAD HIT BY TIGHTER RULES.

Byline: DAVID JAMES

UNIVERSITIES and language schools in Wales have called on Immigration Minister Damian Green not to confuse a British education success story with bogus visa factories masquerading as colleges.

Professionals in education raised concern yesterday after Mr Green used a speech to promise a crackdown on foreign student numbers in the UK, which he described as "unsustainable".

Several thousand foreign nationals come to Wales every year to study courses at a range of institutions from private language schools to sixth-form colleges and universities. They are among more than 300,000 foreign students granted a visa last year to study in the UK.

The Home Office Minister yesterday said he wanted to reduce this figure and ensure only the "brightest and best" came to study and work in the UK. He highlighted figures showing a fifth of these students stayed in the UK for more than five years.

Grace Durighello, director of studies at one of Wales' longest-standing private language schools, accused Mr Green of confusing an education success story with problem immigration.

Mrs Durighello, of the Cardiff-based Centre for English Language Teaching - Celt - said that their students were foreign nationals who saw the UK as the home of English and wanted to improve their job prospects at home.

She said that since reforms were brought in by the previous Labour government to tighten up the visa process for students, their numbers were already falling.

She said: "We have seen applications falling in some areas. For example our students from South America are down, students from Korea and Japan are down.

"These are people who genuinely want to improve their English to improve their job prospects back home.

"We have been speaking to agents and the perception among language travel agents abroad is that the UK is not open for business, that we have closed our borders.

"They are directing their students to the US, Canada and Australia and schools there must be rubbing their hands with glee.

"It's not just schools and teachers that will suffer, it's the local economies. A lot stay with host families."

Some 90,000 foreign nationals are granted visas every year to study courses below degree level in the UK and Mr Green questioned "whether this is the best use of our private-sector training system".

But Mrs Durighello said it was simply successful business, not just for private schools but also further education colleges like Coleg Glan Hafren in Cardiff and Cardiff University which run English-language schemes.

She called on the Government to focus its efforts on bogus institutions which existed to arrange visas for students and not to tighten an already restrictive visa system.

A spokesman for Higher Education Wales, the universities' umbrella body, welcomed Mr Green's more positive comments about students attending degree courses but said the visa system needed to be treated with care.

He said: "Proposals to generally obstruct the mobility of international students to universities may damage the success of Welsh universities at a time when our international activities are increasingly important."

An academic study last year estimated the impact of 10,000 foreign students at Welsh universities was equivalent to a pounds 178m annual economic boost.

Peter Crofts, director of marketing and recruitment at the University of Glamorgan, which welcomes 1,300 foreign nationals every year to study, said the issues of immigration and education should be separated. He said: "We should be proud that so many people from across the world want to come to the UK to study. We have a success story but it's getting embroiled in issues about immigration.

"It is an important source of income but for the university it is more than that. It gives a bit of a multicultural flavour to the university experience, particularly for the universities in Wales that tend to be not quite as multicultural as other parts of the UK.

"Universities without foreign students would be a much sadder place and certainly less colourful place."

The university's Professor Brian Morgan said the Government should see the education of foreign nationals as an export which helped boost the country's balance of payments. He said: "It's a plus in both directions. The number of business relationships that are formed through higher education is very important."

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Large numbers of foreign students like this young man come to Wales to improve their English and are important to the economy
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 7, 2010
Words:731
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