Barriers remain for international students trying to reach campuses

Problems remain with visa application centre processing, government restrictions on travel, availability of flights and difficulties with getting tuberculosis appointments, according to the British Council

“UUKi are aware of issues with VAC capacity in certain countries”

Now UK universities and advocacy groups are trying to make provision for those international students who are unable to reach the country in time for the new semester. 

“UUKi are aware of issues with VAC capacity in certain countries, and we have raised these with UKVI,” a spokesperson for UUKi told The PIE. 

“We have also been working with the government on several Covid-19 concessions to support students who may end up having difficulty obtaining a visa,” they added.

The spokesperson said that these concessions include allowing students to attend different VACs if their local one is closed and enabling students to apply for a replacement visa with revised validity dates free of charge until the end of this year. 

“[Other measures include] allowing students the option to start courses online before travelling to the UK at a later date,” the spokesperson added.

A spokesperson for The University of Nottingham said that they are aware of some issues with a lack of availability of appointments for visa applications, particularly for some African countries and some areas of the Caribbean. 

“This has been compounded by the fact that premium visa appointments are not being offered anywhere in the world.

“We would welcome updates from UKVI about visa appointment availability,” they added. 

Concerns about how the closure of VACs would affect the mobility of international students were voiced earlier this year, when director of UUKi, Vivienne Stern, warned there was “absolutely a risk that students won’t be able to get to the UK”

In June stakeholders expressed cautious optimism as the UK’s centres around the world started to process visas again.

However, an international student mobility heatmap created by the British Council shows that in many countries around the world, VACs are either closed or not in full operation. 

Source: British Council

The map also shows that there are other obstacles that are preventing students from travelling to their study destinations. 

“There are some issues with visa application centres, but there are also a number of other barriers facing international students,” Maddalaine Ansell, director Education at British Council told The PIE.  

“Our global heatmap showed that government restrictions on travel, availability of flights and difficulties with getting tuberculosis appointments are also preventing international students from travelling. 

“The British Council is looking into all the challenges to inward mobility presented by Covid-19 to support the UK education sector and to ensure the UK retains its highly competitive position as the second most popular study destination.”

“Students can request to commence their studies remotely where necessary”

Many UK universities have been preparing to provide in-person teaching for the academic year, and are allowing international students on to campuses. However, provision is being made for those students who are prevented from travelling. 

The University College London which has 18,000 international students has adopted a flexible approach which allows students to enrol online and commence their studies from their home country in case of any delay in their visa applications, a UCL spokesperson told The PIE. 

The University of Nottingham is also trying to be as “flexible as possible” to deal with students who experience flight delays, cancellations or other travel restrictions.

“Students can request to commence their studies remotely where necessary. Our welcome information for international students can be found on our website,” a University of Nottingham spokesperson explained. 

The PIE contacted UKVI for comment but did not receive a reply at the time of publication.

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