Private higher education colleges are at risk of being put out of business as a result of visa changes which prevent their students from doing part-time work, a think-tank has warned.
CentreForum says that private colleges are put at "a major disadvantage" by the Government's visa changes, which allow students of state universities and colleges to work for up to 20 hours a week but bar those in private institutions from doing the same.
"Under the proposals a two-tier system will be created whereby students studying for a university-validated degree, designed by a UK university but taught at a private college, will not be able to work part-time to support their studies. In contrast, students studying an identical degree at the parent university will be able to work. Private institutions looking to attract international students will therefore be competing on an uneven playing field with public institutions," says Tier 4 Fears: Why government student visa proposals are unfair, published by the Liberal think-tank CentreForum.
It suggests that instead, visa students on degree courses at private colleges should have the right to work part-time if the university validating the qualification takes direct responsibility for students by sponsoring their visa application under the university name.
"This would mean those colleges that universities trust to provide degrees on their behalf could still attract the full spectrum of the international student market. Universities will be able to continue to increase the flexibility and expand the scope of their degree courses with the most suitable providers," says the report.
It added: "The government is in real danger of shooting itself in the foot. Its proposals risk putting many private HE colleges out of business at a time when it wants them to expand and provide competition to universities to keep fees down."
Tony Millns, Chief Executive of English UK, has criticised the emerging two-tier visa system. "We have both state and private sector members, and we think this situation is discriminatory and anti-competitive," he said. He has warned that around 300 colleges could go out of business as a result of the changes, which would be damaging to the UK's international reputation.
Sue Hindley, chair of English UK's sister organisation Study UK said: "We support the government in targeting those organisations that have been causing a problem for immigration officials, but the new rules go too far and will penalise the good providers with the bad. If the government is willing to make some minor changes to their proposals they could ensure that genuine students who want to come to the UK to study are not deterred by draconian rules."
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