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What the new UK study visa rules entail

Last updated on: August 10, 2009 11:43 IST

The United Kingdom has always been an attractive study destination for Indian students thanks to its world-class universities that offer globally recognised certifications.

Of late, the "no IELTS" requirement for certain courses in the country has become a great selling point for students, particularly those in the Punjab region.

RMS Atwal spoke to leading UK study visa expert, Jaspal Singh, regarding this and various other aspects of students' migration to the land of Oxford and Cambridge.

"Even though some education institutions in the UK are accepting students without IELTS, it is in the students' interest not to fly without being proficient in the English language," advises Singh, CEO of Jalandhar-based CAAN World Consultants, an overseas education consultancy.

Excerpts from the interview:

How have the changes in the UK study visa rules affected Indian students since they came into effect this April?
I don't think these rule changes had any adverse effect on our students. The UK government has indeed brought about big changes in its visa and immigration regulations for anyone wishing to study or work in that country by introducing the Points-based Immigration System. Our students have found these rules quite easy to understand and use, and a large number of students are flying to Britain every month.

No doubt the British education system is recognised worldwide but following the introduction of these new rules the United Kingdom is fast emerging as one of the most popular study destinations. Moreover, after the attacks on Indian students in Australia, our students are now looking for safer study destinations.

There is no denying the fact that the UK has one of the best education systems. Another attraction is the shortest visa processing time, which makes it a strong and affordable contender for overseas education.

Students are somewhat confused about the UK mission's 4-tier point system. Could you elaborate on this?
This is a points-based system for supporting entry to the UK for the purposes of work, study and training. It comprises five tiers and is being introduced gradually, tier by tier. Tier-4 will affect all international students from outside the European Union and European Economic Area applying for entry clearance/ student visa for the UK.

Under the tier 4 system, when applying for entry clearance, a student will be required to pass a points-based assessment and score 40 points in order to qualify for entry to study. The 40 points are split as follows:

  • 30 points for a Visa Letter issued by a licensed sponsor
  • 10 points for maintenance (money to cover fees and living expenses)

Funds requirement: This is about maintenance of funds that are necessary for studying in that country. The money that a student needs to show is to cover his/her first year's tuition fees and monthly living expenses for the first nine months' stay there. It is noteworthy that the UK Border Agency recognises that a student has to show one year's tuition fee and living expenses for nine months, which is fixed. If it is in London, it is 7,200 pounds (approx Rs 5,73,000) and if it is outside London it is 5,400 pounds (approx Rs 4,29,624). Britain is currently accepting one-day old funds but it should be either in the student's personal account or joint account.

Let me clarify that under tier 4, student visas are being granted to enable the student to enter the UK for the purposes of completing a course at a specified institution. S/he will be able to change from one course to another at the same establishment without needing to submit a new application, however changing the sponsor will require a fresh application. Also, s/he should have an unconditional offer (Visa Letter) from an institution in the UK, where s/he has secured an admission.

Has the Australia situation affected the admissions at UK universities?
The Australia situation has indeed affected students' migration to that country which has forced them to redraw their study abroad plans. They are turning towards other destinations for higher education and the UK is getting a bigger chunk out of it.

It seems Britain will once again emerge a preferred destination for higher studies among Indian students. In the recent past, the easy visa application process is also benefiting that country. As a result, the current academic year has seen around 25 per cent of students interested in foreign education opting for the UK as a study destination. Last year, 29,000 students opted for the UK, 24 per cent less than Australia's intake during the year.

Would you say our students are comparatively safer in the United Kingdom?
While choosing a study destination, students weigh lot of factors apart from just the safety issue: the quality of universities/colleges, the courses they offer, job prospects and chances of permanent settlement. Australia and New Zealand attracted students in the recent years for permanent residency after two-three years of studies. Under the new visa rules, the UK has made it mandatory for applicants to state that they intend to return to their home country on their course completion.

Is it sensible to study in the UK, earn a degree and join an MNC back in India?
Yes, why not? The Indian economy is growing, and has the potential to absorb educated talent. Multinationals are still coming to India and creating a lot of opportunities for our students at home itself. Armed with foreign degrees and skills, our students can be a boon for their own country. Even if they choose to work in the UK, under the new rules, on completing graduation and master's course they will get a two-year work permit which will enable them to gain some foreign work experience.

What are the popular courses in the UK, that offer better employment opportunities?
Currently, business, computer studies, hospitality, nursing and MBA are some of the streams that are quite popular among foreign students in the UK. Students who have done plus-2 can study for diplomas, advanced diplomas, or bachelors in business, computers, and hotel management, nursing, etc, whereas MBA and post-graduate diplomas are also good options for graduate students.

How are the job prospects for Indian students on study completion, apart from part-time jobs during their study period?
The UK immigration rules permit international students to work for 20 hours per week during studies and 40 hours per week during holidays. Partners and dependents are usually free to work as they choose, as long as the main applicant is going to be studying for more than a year.

Under tier 1 (post-study work) of point-based system policy, students who get a bachelor's or post-graduate degree or post-graduate certificate in education or higher national diploma from a Scotland institute will get a two-year post study work permit. It may be noted that in other cases where these conditions are not satisfied students will not get a post-study work permit.

English is a stumbling block for many students. Your comments.
Under tier 4 arrangements, an education institution gives the student a Visa Letter which shows that it is confident that the student is capable of doing the course of study for which s/he has applied. This includes English language proficiency. It is important for the student to check the English language requirements for admission.

The UK is currently accepting students without any specific requirement like IELTS or TOEFL. No doubt at admission levels some universities and colleges do ask for an IELTS certificate but there are many colleges that are accepting international students without any IELTS requirement.

The 'No IELTS for UK education' has become a popular slogan these days. Under the new visa system it is the responsibility of the concerned college to check the student's English fluency. Students with poor knowledge of the English language will certainly face hardships in adjusting to the English lifestyle.

All said and done, though, the "No IELTS" slogan is certainly attracting Indian students towards the UK.

What advice do you have for students ready to leave Indian shores for the UK?
Students planning higher studies in the UK should ensure they have all the information necessary, since the decision will ultimately affect their future. Before taking the final step to leave Indian shores, they must be aware of their legal rights and duties during their course of study.

If they are investing their parent's hard-earned money and their precious time, it is their right to know beforehand what is in store for them. They must be aware of their chances of things like securing a work permit or permanent residency after investing their money and precious years in gaining a UK education.

(RMS Atwal is can be reached at rajatwal55@yahoo.com)

RMS Atwal