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For UK visa, get ready to face tougher test

UK has relaxed two key controversial proposals that India objected to, but students will still need to clear a tougher English test, and may not be allowed to study a second masters programme unless the varsity vouches for it.

delhi Updated: Mar 24, 2011 01:46 IST
Charu Sudan Kasturi

Indian students will face tougher scrutiny of their education funding availability and must score higher in a spoken English test to be eligible for UK student visas starting April 6, under the new rules announced yesterday.

Students can also only pursue a second master’s degree in the UK if the university they have applied to vouches that the second degree represents academic progression, under the changed norms declared by British home secretary Theresa May on Tuesday.

Barring exceptions, postgraduate degree students will get no more than five years to spend in the UK under the new norms.

The new rules represent a compromise between tougher norms the UK had proposed and concerns raised by countries like India. Unlike the tough rules the UK had proposed, students will now not need to return to their home country after completing one degree before applying for another academic programme in the UK.

The earlier proposed changes in visa rules also included a blanket ban on a second degree at the same level – such as a second bachelor’s or master’s degree. India had opposed these proposals, as was first reported by HT on February 24.

“We are thankful to the Indian government for its comments during the consultations on the proposed changes. They helped us in finalizing the new student visa policy,” Chris Dix, South Asia regional director of the UK Border Agency (UKBA) said. The UKBA is the British authority in charge of immigration.

But the changed norms – principally aimed at curbing the number of foreign students entering for vocational programmes -- will mean tougher entry norms for thousands of Indian students who go Britain each year to study.

The UK issued 43,450 student visas to Indians in the 2010 calendar year, a dip from the all-time high of 57,000 in 2009 but significantly higher than the 27,000 issued in 2008. The number of visas issued has generally been rising over the past few years, UKBA officials said.

While several key changes will kick in from next month, others will be implemented in phases from now till the end of 2012.

From April 6, all student applicants will have to sign a declaration that funds they present to meet the maintenance requirement are genuinely available for use in coming to the UK for study.

Still stricter fund scrutiny will be introduced within a few months under the new policy. Applications with bank statements from banks which the UKBA does not consider reliable will be rejected. Over the coming months, the UK government will prepare a list of proscribed banks in each country.

A simpler, streamlined process of verification will be employed for applicants considered low risk, and going to universities in a government list of Highly Trusted Sponsors (HTS).

Students will have to secure a B2 level score instead of a B1 level score they are currently required to obtain based on the Common European Framework of Reference for languages.

A B2 level of aptitude is equivalent to a score over 5.5 in the International English language Testing System (IELTS) used by most UK universities, as opposed to 4.5 for a B1 level.

In the Internet Based Test (IBT) of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) – accepted by some British universities – students will now need to score over 87 as opposed to 57 till now.

The English test scores will be waived only in exceptional cases based on specific requests from university registrars. UKBA officers can also turn away any migrant who is unable to speak without an interpreter.

Students at recognized universities and public-funded further education colleges can continue to work along with their studies as at present, but all others can no longer work part-time while studying under the new rules.

Only postgraduate students in courses of duration of over 12 months, or government-sponsored students, can bring dependents under the new rules. Dependents can however work in the UK. At present, all students on long courses can bring dependents.

Students pursuing courses below the level of a degree will continue to have a cap of three years on the maximum amount of time they can spend in the UK. But the new rules introduce a cap of five years for students pursuing a degree or above degree level of higher education.

The UK government has however left this rule flexible enough to allow exceptions for students pursuing their PhDs, second degrees or enrolled in courses like medicine and architecture that can take over five years to complete.

The new rules also require all universities in the UK to obtain HTS status by April 2012 and accreditation by end 2012.

During the interim period, the government will place a cap on the number of foreign students non-accredited institutions can admit. “Our advice to Indian students would be to stick to universities in the HTS list during this interim period,” Dix said.

The requirements for universities are aimed at curbing fraud universities. The UK government has received several complaints about dubious institutions duping foreign students, Dix said.