The Home Office has relaxed student visa rules for a select number of universities in a pilot scheme aimed towards master's students. The move has prompted some to claim that government is trying to create a two-tier system.
The two-year pilot, which was officially launched on July 25th, has eased visa rules for those applying to master's courses at four specially chosen universities. These include the University of Bath, University of Cambridge, University of Oxford and Imperial College London.
Those involved in the scheme will be made responsible for their own eligibility checks, which means students can submit a reduced level of supporting documents on aspects such as prior qualifications as part of their visa applications.
Students under the scheme will also be allow to stay in the UK for up to six months after their course has finished, with the aim of providing enough time for graduates to find a job. This will not however consist of the re-introduction of post-study work visas.
According to government the current pilot is deliberately narrow so that the pilot can be closely monitored against its stated objectives and to minimise the risk of unintended consequences before considering rolling it out more widely. The aim, as stated by government, is to "test the benefits of a differentiated approach within Tier 4, whilst ensuring that any changes do not undermine the robust application of immigration requirements".
The four universities were chosen because they all have low visa refusal rates, although it's argued this is somewhat arbitrary given that refusals are mainly attributed to administrative errors by students.
With the latest pilot there are concerns that the current single UK education system could be transformed into a two-tier system by treating some universities differently. This shift is also apparent in the government's aim to allow some universities to increase fees above their current £9,000, which could additionally fragment the industry.