Student visa difficulties easing, agent survey indicates

Agents for international students looking to study abroad have reported fewer difficulties in obtaining student visas for the UK than last year, according to a new survey.

The i-graduate ICEF Agent Barometer 2012 survey found that 45 per cent of agents said they had difficulties getting student visas in the UK.

This is down from last year when 52 per cent reported problems.

In 2012, the UK is ranked as the second toughest destination to obtain a study visa behind Canada; in 2011, the countries' positions were reversed.

The UK Border Agency introduced a number of tougher restrictions on international students in April 2011, including higher English language requirements at non-university institutions.

From April 2012, all sponsors of international students have had to have highly trusted sponsor status, which for higher education institutions requires an inspection from the Quality Assurance Agency.

Despite fears that the new regulations would put off international students, 76 per cent of agents expected to send more students to the UK in the coming year compared with the previous 12 months.

Only 9 per cent thought the number would fall, although this figure includes language courses and secondary education as well as higher education courses.

The UK is seen as the second most attractive destination in the world behind the US, with 93 per cent of respondents rating it "very attractive" or "attractive", 3 per cent up from 2011.

As has been the case since the survey began in 2007, the UK is ranked as the second most attractive destination for undergraduate, graduate, postgraduate and MBA courses behind the US.

Safety in the UK was a concern for per cent of agents, the third highest after the US and Australia, although a significant drop from 2011 when half of agents had safety worries.

The report speculates that this could have been due to the effect of the English riots.

Cost of study remains the most important factor when choosing a destination, and was cited by 85 per cent of agents.

This criteria was followed by "admission requirements/flexible entry requirements"; "language of teaching"; and "easy access to visas".

The survey, which ran for six weeks September and October this year, gathered responses from 1,023 agents in 107 countries.

david.matthews@tsleducation.com

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