Weekly news roundup: UK visa numbers bounce back and Australia pushes for essay mill court action

By Lily Martin• Last updated: Oct 30, 2023
Weekly news roundup: UK visa numbers bounce back and Australia pushes for essay mill court action
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This week’s news comes from the UK and Australia, with new data being released from the UK Home Office on study visas and a growing push in Australia against essay mills.

The head of Imperial College London has also made the university’s annual address, highlighting changes to teaching and learning in the sector.

Here’s your weekly higher education news roundup. 

UK visa numbers bounce back, with an increase in grants from India and Pakistan

Data recently released by the UK Home Office show that the number of study visas granted to students has recovered to levels seen pre-pandemic.

Immigration data, which gives an indication of students seeking to travel to the UK, shows that over 250,000 study visas were approved in the year to March 2021.

This figure is 16 per cent less than the 12-month period before, which was largely unaffected by the pandemic, however it is around 10,000 more than the previous year before that.

The new data indicates a major recovery in the number of students receiving visas to study in the UK through the last semester of 2020-21. 

It also indicates that UK universities are attracting increasing numbers of students from India, Pakistan and Nigeria which received an 83 per cent increase in study visa grants. There was a 13 per cent increase in the number of visa grants to Indian nationals, and a 52 per cent rise for nationals of Pakistan.

This increase mitigates the loss of students from China during the pandemic period.

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Australia pushes for essay mill court action

Peter Coldrake, the Chief Commissioner of Australia’s higher education regulator has pledged to not be “gun shy” in pursuing essay mills in the nation’s court system.

Professor Coldrake labelled “industrial-scale cheating” as one of the “emerging big threats” that the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) was facing. “We’re dealing with an incredibly fast-paced sort of industry here, and one that does present a profound challenge to us collectively,” he explained at the Needed Now in Teaching and Learning conference.

The agency is already pursuing a case, using a law passed last year in Australia, but the process is expensive. 

“TEQSA doesn’t have the resources to be fighting multiple cases in the federal court,” Professor Coldrake added. Nevertheless, he said the agency would “do what we need to do, within our resources.”

Previously, TEQSA has warned the sector of the developing risk of contract cheating companies, with a recent advisory sharing data from Australian researchers who have been scrutinising commercial cheating services’ activities internationally.

This research identified more than 2.600 potentially plagiarised assignments, which were submitted to more than 60 universities and institutions in Australia alone.

Head of Imperial College London says no more “dull lectures in crowded auditoriums”

The President of Imperial College London has stated that university students will no longer accept “dull lectures in crowded auditoriums” at the institution’s annual address on 2 June.

Alice Gast was due to say that the rapid switch online since the start of the pandemic and the move to “multi-mode education” had given universities a taste of their “ability to enrich the educational experience for our students”.

“The best and brightest students will not accept an education fashioned around dull lectures in a crowded auditorium,” she was set to say.

New ways of working will allow staff and students “to make the most of our precious time together while using technology to enable us to be efficient and effective. We will use spaces differently,” she was due to add.

Professor Gast’s speech contributes to a growing dialogue in the UK higher education sector about the future of learning at universities, with students becoming increasingly critical of the quality of teaching and learning offered in the UK.

She also was due to use the speech to announce a £10 million fund for scholarships and fellowships over the next five years. Imperial has also promised £5 million of this fund to help underrepresented students, including black students and those whose socio-economic backgrounds are barriers to university attendance.

This was Professor Gasts’ first address after she was forced to apologise after a disciplinary hearing found her guilty of bullying.

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