Student Visas - Home Affairs Committee Contents


Written evidence submitted by The Association of Business Executives (SV23)

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

  • ABE is an awarding body and membership organisation founded in 1973, based in New Malden, employing 35 staff, with 50,000 registered students and a turnover of more than £6 million.
  • It is accredited by Ofqual and its qualifications are on the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF).
  • ABE offers Diplomas at Levels 4, 5 and 6 in four subjects: Business Management; Human Resource Management; Travel, Tourism and Hospitality Management; and Marketing Management.
  • ABE qualifications are taught by a network of 534, mainly private, accredited colleges worldwide of which 190 are in the UK. ABE will only accredit a college to teach its qualifications in the UK if the college has in turn been independently accredited by Ofsted, BAC, ASIC or Accreditation UK. ABE does not directly teach its qualifications, students are taught by the colleges who are also responsible for recruiting them and for supporting their visa application.
  • ABE has progression agreements with 75 universities worldwide, of which 41 are in the UK. These universities accept ABE qualifications for entry at different stages from first up to the final year of Honours degree level courses and for exemptions on Masters Degrees and MBAs.
  • Individuals study ABE qualifications for a variety of reasons. The most important reason given by students is that they lead to university (25% of ABE students). The second reason why students study ABE is that they are professional business qualifications (22%), but the third most important reason is that they are British qualifications (15%).
  • ABE wants to have only genuine students studying its qualifications at genuine colleges who return to their home country (if studying abroad) after completing their studies. It therefore supports the Government's objective to clamp down on bogus students and bogus colleges and is happy to make its data available to UKBA to support this objective. ABE has no evidence that students studying its qualifications are anything other than genuine. For example, attendance at its examinations is within industry standards.
  • The Government proposes restricting Tier 4 applications to degree level courses (apart from Highly Trusted Sponsors). However, the documentation does not make it clear what exactly is meant by degree level and the definition is of critical importance to ABE.
  • ABE currently recruits about 7,300 students a year who want to study in the UK at Level 4 and 5 at colleges that are not Highly Trusted Sponsors (HTS). These students pay on average £183 a year in exam and registration fees, and so ABE is facing a potential £1.34 million loss of revenue. Such a loss of around one fifth of ABE's income could not be absorbed without redundancies and other associated financial cutbacks, and even with them, it could threaten the survival of the organisation.
  • Concerns over what appears to be a tiny proportion of individuals who are abusing the system look like they will lead to restrictions which severely damage, if not destroy, a significant proportion of a business where Britain is internationally successful. There will also be a knock on loss of business to couriers, printers, accommodation providers and others. ABE is one of these success stories with a threefold increase in exam entries and student membership over a period of 10 years. Many of ABE's ex-students hold senior positions in business, industry and government in their own countries.
  • British education is one of the country's economic successes. However, it is an inter-connected system with the colleges feeding students to the universities. There is no doubt that any restrictions, or perceived restrictions, will damage the country's reputation as an educational provider.
  • Treat Level 4, 5 and 6 qualifications as degree level. Failing that, treat all Level 5 and 6 qualifications as degree level for the purposes of student visas and not just those delivered by universities.

1.  INTRODUCTION

1.1  The Association of Business Executives (ABE) is an awarding body and membership organisation. ABE is accredited by Ofqual and provides a range of business and management qualifications which are on the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF).

1.2  It was founded in 1973 as a company limited by guarantee and now has a turnover of more than £6 million. It is based in New Malden, has 35 permanent employees along with contracted examiners and other support staff. More than 50,000 people worldwide are registered as students studying for ABE qualifications. The President is 'lateral thinker' Professor Edward de Bono, its Chairman Dato Dr Tan Tiong Hong is a former government Minister in Malaysia, and its ruling Council includes a former High Commissioner and Ambassador, and university academics from several different countries.

1.3  ABE's mission is to educate people in business and management skills for the benefit of their country and themselves. The majority of its students are in the less economically developed Commonwealth countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. It is particularly strong in countries such as Botswana, Zambia, Tanzania, Malawi, Kenya, Trinidad and Tobago, Sri Lanka, Mauritius and Malaysia.

1.4  ABE currently offers Certificate (Level 3), Diploma (Level 5), Advanced Diploma (Level 6) and Postgraduate Diploma (Level 7) qualifications based on the National Qualifications Framework (NQF). With effect from the December 2011 examinations, all ABE qualifications will be based on QCF and it will offer Diplomas at Level 4, Level 5 and Level 6 in:

  • Business Management;
  • Human Resource Management;
  • Marketing Management; and
  • Travel, Tourism and Hospitality Management.

In addition a Diploma in Business Management will be offered at Level 7. The qualifications share some common units and so are very flexible. The prices for ABE's qualifications are always kept as low as possible in order to maintain their attraction.

1.5  These qualifications are taught by a network of 534, mainly private, accredited colleges worldwide of which 190 are in the UK. ABE will only accredit a college to teach its qualifications in the UK if the college has in turn been independently accredited by Ofsted, BAC, ASIC or Accreditation UK. ABE does not directly teach its qualifications, students are taught by the colleges who are also responsible for recruiting them and for supporting their visa application. ABE designs the qualifications, provides the syllabuses, provides study guides and other support material for students and lecturers, manages the examinations and marking, and publishes the results.

1.6  ABE has progression agreements with 75 universities worldwide, of which 41 are in the UK. These universities accept ABE qualifications for entry at different stages. Thus the Certificate entitles students to start Honours Degrees at year one, the Diploma in year two, the Advanced Diploma in year three and the Postgraduate Diploma provides exemptions to part of Masters or MBA level degrees.

1.7  Individuals study ABE qualifications for a variety of reasons. The most important reason given by students is that they lead to university (25% of ABE students). The second reason why students study ABE is that they are professional business qualifications (22%), but the third most important reason is that they are British qualifications (15%).

2.  GENERAL POINTS

2.1  ABE simply wants to have genuine students studying its qualifications at genuine colleges who return to their home country (if studying abroad) after completing their studies. It therefore supports the Government's objective to clamp down on bogus students and bogus colleges. ABE would be happy to make its data available to UKBA in support of this objective. The organisation's Founder Chairman, Lyndon Jones, has an honourable history of campaigning against bogus qualifications. ABE has no evidence that students studying its qualifications are anything other than genuine. For example, attendance at its examinations is within industry standards.

2.2  The Government proposes restricting Tier 4 applications to degree level courses (apart from Highly Trusted Sponsors). However, the documentation does not make it clear what exactly is meant by "degree level"courses and the definition is of critical importance to ABE. ABE would contend that as Level 3 is "A" Level, then Level 4 should be considered as degree level and indeed students with an ABE Level 5 qualification receive exemption from the first year of the Honours degrees provided by ABE partner universities.

2.3  A literal interpretation that only a Level 6 qualification can be considered a degree level, or even more literally that only a degree taught at a university is considered a degree level qualification, would have a devastating effect on ABE. ABE currently recruits about 7,300 students a year who want to study in the UK at Level 4 and 5 at colleges that are not Highly Trusted Sponsors (HTS). These students pay on average £183 a year in exam and registration fees, and so ABE is facing a potential £1.34 million loss of revenue. Such a loss of around one fifth of ABE's income could not be absorbed without redundancies and other associated financial cutbacks, and even with them, it could threaten the survival of the organisation. In addition ABE students usually progress up through the levels and so if ABE was only able to offer Level 6 in isolation it is unlikely that it would continue to recruit the current numbers (which would have further negative financial and employment impacts).

3.  RESPONSES TO AREAS RAISED BY THE COMMITTee

Whether the cuts should be limited to certain types of courses (e.g. pre-degree level)

3.1  The answer to this question depends on the definition of degree level. Does the question mean degrees offered at universities, or any Level 6 qualification, or qualifications at Levels 4 and above as ABE would suggest. It is important to understand that the current system is a progression where one level of qualification is a feeder to the next higher level. It will be too big a step for many students to go straight to Level 6 without having studied at lower levels. In addition many ABE students study for a Level 5 qualification in order to enter the second year of university because they can save money as both the total time needed and the overall cost is lower. Therefore if all lower level qualifications were restricted there would be fewer applications for degree level qualifications, with the resulting loss of income for the degree providers and the economy as a whole. Furthermore students who want a business qualification in its own right to help them in their career, as opposed to an entry route to university, would also no longer be able to come to the UK to study.

The impact different levels of cuts might have on the various sectors

3.2  As explained, in paragraph 2.3, ABE could lose £1.34 million depending on what definition of degree level is applied. ABE qualifications are taught by private sector colleges. While all could offer Level 6 qualifications, and those who are Highly Trusted Sponsors (HTS) could continue to offer the full range of ABE qualifications, the loss of a major part of their business would undoubtedly lead to college closures. There will also be a knock on loss of business to couriers, printers, accommodation providers and others. College closures will lead to the direct loss of teaching and administration jobs (with the resulting impact on local spending, taxation etc) and loss of business to a wide range of suppliers. Moreover the closure of colleges will lead to the loss of the feed of students to universities, with a resultant loss of valuable international students. Thus concerns over what appears to be a tiny proportion of individuals who are abusing the system look like they will lead to restrictions which severely damage, if not destroy, a significant proportion of a business where Britain is internationally successful. ABE is one of these success stories with a threefold increase in exam entries and student membership over a period of 10 years.

The impact, if any, that reductions in student visas might have on the UK's standing in the world

3.3  British education is one of the country's economic successes. However, it is an inter-connected system with the colleges feeding students to the universities. There is no doubt that any restrictions, or perceived restrictions, will damage the country's reputation as an educational provider. The direct and indirect economic benefits to the country are well understood. The reputational damage is less easy to quantify, but is real. For example, many important individuals in business and politics worldwide hold ABE qualifications (such as government Ministers in Namibia, Malawi and Tanzania). These individuals are in favour of British qualifications (as is the President of ABE's new Africa Division who is the Prime Minister of Namibia) and they obviously think better of Britain as a result.

Whether cuts in student visas would have any effect on the decisions of highly qualified graduates to conduct research or take up teaching posts in the UK

3.4  This is not an issue that is relevant to ABE.

Whether the post study route should be continued

3.5  ABE supports the value of students studying business in another country because it broadens their knowledge, but believes that they should return to their home country after their studies have been completed. We appreciate that this is an important element in the overall package offered for a Masters degree but, whilst students take ABE qualifications as part of their progression towards a Masters degree, we do not have an opinion on this issue.

The educational routes through which students come to the UK to study at degree level

3.6  ABE's qualifications provide an important route for international students to study at degree level in the UK. ABE students frequently start at the lowest level and then work their way up through the levels before going on to a university which they then join the first, second or third year (depending on the level of ABE qualification they obtain).

International comparisons

3.7  Other countries, such as Malaysia, have a policy to attract as many overseas students as possible so any restrictions will result in a loss to the UK of financial, wealth, prestige and business development opportunities which will be picked up by other countries.

4.  RECOMMENDATIONS

4.1  Treat Level 4, 5 and 6 qualifications as degree level. Failing that treat all Level 5 and 6 qualifications as degree level for the purposes of student visas and not just those delivered by universities.

January 2011



 
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Prepared 25 March 2011