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UKBA staff to test overseas students' English language skills

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Concerns about the ‘impartiality’ of the UKBA system to assess overseas students’ language skills at visa appointments have been voiced by educational officials.

According to the new system, a student can be barred from entering the UK if a visa official judges that their English is not ‘good enough,’ despite having passed standard language tests to study at university in the UK.

The new system, which came into effect on 30 July, grants powers to UKBA staff at visa offices around the world to reject any applicant that does not comply with the English requirements or that are ‘believed to be bogus students’ as part of a new strategy against abuse of the student visa route to enter the UK.

However, the education sector believes students could be failed by visa officers who do not have the right training to assess their language competence. It is thought that the assessment of the English skills of overseas students could be ‘highly subjective.’

Mike Milanovic, chief executive of Cambridge Esol, which produces a number of the tests of English approved by the UKBA, told The Guardian that immigration staff will need specialist skills. ‘Speaking is possibly the most challenging skill to assess. Even when it is carried out by very experienced language teachers, you still need to provide them with specialist training and very detailed instructions.’

He also mentioned that an extensive quality management system is needed to back this assessment. ‘Otherwise, it's almost impossible to deliver a fair, reliable assessment.’

The UK Border Agency (UKBA) said it expects to interview 14,000 students applying for Tier 4 student visas over the next 12 months: more than 5% of the 250,000 expected applicants. The interviews will be targeted at students from countries where risks of abuse are higher and who are applying to institutions that are not on the UKBA's 'highly trusted sponsor' list [PDF].

 

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Read our guide to applying for a UK student visa

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