As UK welcomes world’s best athletes, tourism industry professionals join academics and language schools in renewing pressure on Government over visa rules

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The UK has just welcomed the world’s best athletes, so why can’t it do the same for the world’s brightest academic stars, asks director of London language school UIC.

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"As the Olympics come to a conclusion and the UK looks likely to slip back into recession, sending a message that we welcome foreign students and investment is more important than ever"

This week, news reports have claimed that the tourism boom predicted to accompany the London Olympics has not really materialised. Hotel, restaurant and theatre bookings are down, as are student numbers across the capital’s language schools. But it’s not just the prospect of high prices that are putting people off, said David Wilkins, Director of UIC English school in London.

“The Government claimed that bringing the Olympics to London would result in a massive boost to tourism, but this is simply not proving to be the case. Students are generally not among the wealthiest tourists and it’s likely that some were put off by increased prices. However, there is a bigger issue here that is affecting tourists of all types – we are sending the message, via our bungled visa system, that visitors from outside the EU are not welcome here.”

The disagreement between education establishments and the Government over student visas has been rumbling since last year. In May, the heads of nearly 70 universities wrote to David Cameron to say any cap on immigration that included genuine overseas students ran the risk of driving them to other countries and reducing the competitiveness of the UK in a global market work billions of pounds. Last week, tourism groups echoed their calls for the Government to reconsider the whole visa system.

The Tourism Alliance stated that Britain’s share of Chinese tourists, who spend more than double what Americans spend (on average), has dropped by 60% in the last decade. It blamed a combination of air passenger duty and a visa system that is set up to dissuade them from coming. Intercontinental Hotels Group – Britain’s biggest hotel chain – also weighed into the debate, commenting that tour operators are dropping Britain from their European itineraries because of the “very punitive” visa regime. “Germany has nine times the number of Chinese visitors,” said Richard Solomons, IHG’s group chief executive, in a recent interview. “The statistics stare you in the face.”

Reports suggest that the cap proposed by the Home Office will cost universities up to £8bn a year, with language schools and related sectors also likely to be hit. “I simply cannot understand why, while we make a show of welcoming sporting stars and celebrating cultural diversity, we are risking irreversible damage to a highly performing sector of our economy by excluding promising young students,” said David Wilkins. “Education and tourism industry professionals have recently found support among a cross-party group of MPs and we hope that, together, we can make the Government reconsider its plans. As the Olympics come to a conclusion and the UK looks likely to slip back into recession, sending a message that we welcome foreign students and investment is more important than ever.”

About UIC London

UIC London is a British Council accredited English school offering modern facilities and experienced staff. As well as being a ‘highly trusted sponsor’ of the UK Border Agency the school has won both the Star Award (voted on by travel agents worldwide) and the British Council Award for Innovation. Visit the UIC London website for more information.

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David Wilkins
UIC London
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