New rules set down earlier this year by the UK Home Office for its Tier 4 student visa system has been regarded with some apprehension and confusion by prospective students and parents.
However, Consul General Guy Warrington from the British Embassy in Dubai wants to send a message that the new rules are not meant to turn away genuine students.
They are aimed at illegitimate institutions and students whose primary reason for coming to the UK is to work he said in a recent interview with Gulf News.
"The target of these changes is not to stop students from coming to the UK but to make sure they go to worthy education establishments. Sometimes students go to the UK and what they were promised is not what's offered. And that's the big concern… to drive out the rogue establishments."
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To educate members of the public about the changes, the British Council has organised information sessions in Dubai and Abu Dhabi this summer.
"We were fielding calls from worried scholarship agencies and schools so we arranged the meetings to make them understand the changes as simply as we could," said British Council Dubai director Kate Owen.
"The British government is very keen to encourage genuine students to come to the UK. We are keen because it's good for foreign policy reasons and good for the British economy because it generates around £5 billion [Dh30 billion] every year," said Warrington.
He said figures for the enrolment of UAE students at UK universities grew by 9.9 per cent last year amounting to 3,105 students and 2009 figures saw a 14.2 per cent growth. "And we are seeing increasing number of Emiratis going there."
However, it is too early to tell how the new rules will affect enrolments as they come into effect this year until April 2012.
Bending the system
Warrington said people who were previously bending the system by going to illegitimate institutions to work rather than for education will be removed from the overall number of students "but they shouldn't have been on that list in the first place".
Warrington agreed the rules have been tightened but only to exclude non-genuine he said. He added that requirements for linguistic ability are also stricter now and work experience is also being limited.
From April next year the Tier 1 Post Study Work Route will be closed, which means students will have to return to their country of origin after graduating unless they hold a particular qualification or skill that meets a skills gap in the UK.
Complaints about the funds that are required to be in students' or parents' bank accounts have also surfaced but Ian Walker, a UK Border Agency Abu Dhabi official, said previously the amount of money required was arbitrary.
"With a Points Based System (PBS), a lot of research was done with universities and the British Council to try and work out what the maintenance figure would be," Walker said.
"Frankly I don't think the financial aspect will be deterrent to Emiratis especially considering that they are government sponsored," said Warrington.
Another restriction is that from this month only new students studying at postgraduate level will be allowed to bring their dependants with them. The exception to this will be government sponsored students studying longer than 12 months so this does not pose a problem to most of the Emirati applicants said Warrington.
Pre-departure briefings available
If you are planning to study in the UK either this year or next year and want more information, you can attend pre-departure briefings run by the British Council's Education UK team this summer.
The half-day sessions aim to provide students with important information about studying and living in the UK so that they are well prepared. The briefings will cover topics such as learning and teaching methods in the UK, adapting to a new culture, managing finances, getting around and applying for a visa.
For more information on the new visa rules e-mail [email protected] or log on to www.ukvisas.gov.uk/en/howtoapply/vafs or www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk.
Clarification on visa rules
Ian Walker from the UK Border Agency covers aspects of the new Tier 4 student visa system that people find most confusing:
Previously maintenance costs were arbitrarily determined by the sponsor. The new rules state that in addition to the first-year fees, students need to show finances of £800 (Dh4,800) per month if studying in Inner London (up to £7,200 for the first year and equivalent to nine months study) and £600 per month if studying outside Inner London.
Ideally this should be in the student's own name but we do accept parents' accounts too. The money in the account should not drop below this amount for a minimum a 28-day period and any bank statement should be dated no more than one month from the date of application
Most Emiratis are government sponsored so finances are not an issue, however we cannot issue a student visa without seeing the original education documents the college or university have assessed their suitability against.
All students, except those studying for degrees or higher at a university or higher educational institute, now need to pass an approved English language test - the Secure English Language Test, which is equivalent to a score of 5.5 on the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) test.
Only those studying at Postgraduate level or higher can bring their dependents with them. The only exception is for Government sponsored students, in both cases the course most be for one year or more.
Working after graduation
The Tier 1 (Post Study) Migrant category will close in April 2012. This was the common route for overseas graduates to remain in the UK so that they could work there. From April 2012, the Tier 2 (General) route will remain open. This is a skilled worker route, allowing you to work for a company that is registered and where there is a genuine skills shortage.