UK immigration steps to benefit students
Vet varsity plan revived
UK immigration steps to benefit students
RECENTLY, the entry clearance regulations under UK immigration laws have been relaxed. Categories like the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme and Working Holiday maker reflect a more contemporary approach to de-regularising borders and allowing entry to those who would contribute to the British economy.
Increase in working hours of full-time students and extension of the visa up to one year after completion of a degree programme together with aggressive marketing have enabled UK universities take in more students from overseas. A sizeable number of these come from the Indian sub-continent.
Student flow from India to the UK has increased from 2,300 in 1996 to 10,900 in 2002, and the British Council expects it to increase still further by a couple of thousand this year.
Given the rush of students to British universities, this avenue of entry has well been exploited by those indulging in illegal migration. The Home Office reports that every year nearly 5,000 slip into the UK to work under the guise of student visas. The British Council estimates 800,000 students by 2020, generating close to `A320 billion in the UK economy. Evidently, this incidence of "bogus students" cannot not be ignored.
An increase in the rejection of student visa applications of genuine students with letters of offer from reputed universities and granting of a student visa to a bogus student with a letter of offer from a "mushroom college" in the UK has also affected the student flow from India.
The British Council has already identified the problem of "mushroom colleges", which spring up, issue offer letters to enable students obtain visas and then disappear just as quickly.
Flooded with visa applications and the urgent attention required, it was difficult, if not impossible for the entry clearance officer to distinguish between these two categories. As a result, genuine students bore the brunt of the High Commissionís stringent in-house visa granting procedure.
About a week ago British Home Secretary David Blunkett announced a new set of measures to prevent abuse of immigration routes to study or marry in the UK. The package aims at dealing with the somewhat sensitive issue of "bogus students". Clearly, UK Institutions of higher learning for the past few years have been trying hard to bridge the deficit in their income by admitting overseas students at higher fees than students from within the UK or EU. Therefore, any adverse immigration measure(s) which might affect genuine students from studying in the UK would eventually affect universities as well.
The new measures include:
1 immediate implementation of a planned investigation into addresses masquerading as educational establishments;
2 an accreditation and monitoring scheme to ensure proper registration of genuine educational establishments by the end of the year. Once the list is drawn up, student visas will not be issued to those from colleges not on the list;
3 obligation to notify the Home Office when students do not turn up for courses and consultation on how best to implement this;
4 a commitment to ensure that the process is as non-bureaucratic as possible and discussion with colleges on how best to achieve this; and
5 augment the Risk Assessment Units in Embassies abroad to improve the flow of intelligence of fraud or abuse.
Ideally, these measures should be in place before the 2004-2005 academic session at colleges and universities across the UK begin. However, on practical grounds it might not be feasible. The size of the education sector, the large number of suspicious language schools and colleges which have proliferated and the quantum of overseas students applying every year, does not make this task any easier.
However, with certain bodies already in existence, some proposed measures should not take long to be up and working.
The use of a single accredition body like the British Accredition Council would help in making the accredition and monitoring scheme actually effective, while identifying, accrediting and monitoring genuine educational establishments.
Genuine educational institutions could play a vital role in this. The sheer rush and need of obtaining fees from overseas students would have to be tailored by a more balanced and cautious approach. Increase in student intake in the British universities has to be by a balanced approach. Reaffirming faith in the institution and a high world class standard of imparting education should constantly underline the aggressive marketing strategies of these seats of learning.
So far, and I vouchsafe on my personal experience, the registries of universities across the UK have been minimally bureaucratic. The new set of measures suggests a comprehensive and constant interaction between the universities and the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND). While such an interaction would reduce abuse of the student immigration regime, one would have to take care that it does not delay the admission process.
In spite of some doubts on the effective deployment of these proposed new measures against abuse of the student immigration route without affecting the entry of prospective students from the sub-continent, it is certain that these measures, when in operation, shall benefit the students themselves.
Vet varsity plan revived
THE Tribune on April 19 reported Punjab Chief Ministerís announcement that a "veterinary university would be set up at Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), Ludhiana. The reporter said: "The announcement has resulted in widespread resentment amongst veterinary graduates and postgraduates of PAU ..... since 1998 the government has not advertised any post. As a result six batches (of veterinary graduates produced by Veterinary College of PAU) have got no jobs and now the government is planning another university".
The matter of unemployed vet graduates deserves serious consideration by the government.
One learns that out of the sanctioned posts in the Vet College, PAU, 47 posts of teachers are vacant because there is no budget to fill these. Further, one often hears the lament of the faculty that their contingent grant is meagre. A perusal of the PAU budget book reveals that out of a total grant of Rs 13.23 crore, Rs 12.17 crore is for payment of salaries and only Rs 87 lakh left under contingencies for use of the 15 departments.
Obviously, the complaint of shortage of funds is genuine. The draft proposal of the new varsity complains of "setpmotherly treatment" (to Vet College). How is PAU to be blamed for it? The blame lies at the doorstep of the government for Ďlow budgetí allocation as is also admitted by the author of the draft proposal.
It is but obvious that PAU did not come up as a spontaneous thought of a political personage, but like other agricultural universities in the country was the outcome of the collective wisdom of teams of eminent scientists which after pondering all aspects of food production in the country made recommendations which were accepted by the government. The result is there for all to see. Taking the vet faculty out of its fold erodes its composite character. If the veterinary college goes out of it, other faculties may not be far behind. This means the beginning of dismantling of PAU.
Single discipline universities cannot develop in seclusion. For progress in applied sciences there has to be a regular inflow from mainstream sciences. Quoting from Jonas Salk, Universities Press, who provided the first successful vaccine against polio and developed the prestigious Salk Institute at La Jolla, California, "One of the main goals is to bring together people from different sciences so that they can share their expertise and different perspectives."
The late Kehar Singh, who retired as director, Punjab Animal Husbandry, had said: "The proposal to set up single faculty yet, university is neither desirable nor need-based and surely not in the interest in the professional."
The Indian Council of Agricultural Research, New Delhi is the central body coordinating, guiding and funding agricultural research and education in the country. Further, the author of the draft has tried to derive support by citing Dr MS Swaminathan, retired Director-General, ICAR. It will be pertinent to seek the views of the ICAR on the proposal as also the State Planning Board.
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