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Last Updated: Friday, 18 February, 2005, 16:21 GMT
China students in fight for visas
By Melissa Jackson
BBC News education reporter

Chinese student
Foreign students generate income
A UK university has twice found itself in a battle with immigration officials to secure places for Chinese students refused visas to study in Britain.

Wolverhampton's testimony comes amid a big slowdown in the number of foreign students applying for UK higher education courses this year.

The number of applications from Chinese students is down 26% on the previous year, according to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas).

Wolverhampton University is sympathetic to the Foreign Office's duty to stop illegal immigrants entering the country.

But it was still "shocked" that nearly 70 "bona fide" students would have missed their course had it not been for senior staff intervening to fight their cases.

Foreign students generate a vital source of income for universities and Wolverhampton faced the prospect of not just losing face - in the eyes of its Chinese higher education partners - but vast sums of money, if they had pulled out.

Professor Roy Newton
If we lose face, we are out of the market and it is a very important market
Professor Roy Newton, University of Wolverhampton

Pro-vice chancellor Professor Roy Newton said: "If we lose face, we are out of the market and it is a very important market - China is our largest international market for students coming to the UK."

Last summer, 57 qualified teachers, who were due to start a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (Tefl) course at the university, were refused visas to enter the UK.

Professor Roy Newton told the BBC News website: "We had to intervene at British consul level in Beijing.

"This course had been running for the previous two years and every student had returned to China afterwards.

"Fortunately it was resolved successfully within a week by the British consul, but only because the vice-chancellor and myself had to make persistent phone calls and e-mails to her office.

"I realise immigration officials are doing this for all good reasons and I don't have any argument with that at all, but I think overseas applicants need clarity as to exactly what information is needed, as do the universities."

International links

Wolverhampton university had checked the academic credentials of all the students who had registered for the month-long course and was satisfied they were genuine, which is why the visa rejections came as such a blow.

Professor Newton said: "In the end all of the students came out and all of them went back, but it was a real shock that this number of visas was rejected on what were clearly bona fide students."

In a separate incident, also last summer, the university had a similar fight when 11 Chinese students were due to take part in a course organised by the British Council.

Again, a series of phone calls to the British consul in Beijing succeeded in reversing the visa refusals, with an added condition.

Prof Newton said: "The visa agents in Beijing wanted us to collect up all the passports when the students returned and take them to Beijing to prove the students had returned home.

"We had to round up the passports."

The task was carried out by the university's regional officer in Hong Kong, whose job now entails writing a covering letter with each student's visa application sent to immigration officials.

The university is proud of its 10-year academic partnership with China and its links with 65 countries worldwide.

It recruits about 1,500 international students to undergraduate and postgraduate courses annually and hopes the general slowdown in the number of overseas applicants to UK universities is a blip.

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