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Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Volume 10, Issue 12; March 30, 2011

The Playing Field

UK talks tough on curbing foreign student numbers.

Abroad Perspectives

Cultivating an international mindset for all.

Over The Counter

More scams down under.

Globe Tipping

Airfare Lotto: When’s the best time to buy your ticket?

1) THE PLAYING FIELD – UK talks tough on curbing foreign student numbers.

Last week the UK government declared the number of foreign students and their dependants could be cut by almost 100,000 a year – an expected outcome of its series of planned “radical” clampdowns on the higher education sector.

Along with tougher restrictions on non-EU students staying in the country after their course finishes (which may include a rule that they must find a job paying at least £20,000 a year or more to stay), Home Secretary Theresa May says the plans will also be aimed at minimizing the number of ‘abuses’ occurring under the current student visa system.

“This package will stop the bogus students, studying meaningless courses at fake colleges,” she says. “It will protect our world-class institutions.”

One of the biggest elements of the reforms will be to block entry for those students without sufficient English skills – raising the minimum English proficiency level, and giving UK Border Agency officers the discretion to refuse entry to students who cannot speak English without an interpreter, or who are clearly below the minimum standards.

“Let me be clear,” May says, “You need to speak English to learn at our education establishments. If you can’t, we won’t give you a visa.”

May says the changes will also be aimed at ensuring study, rather than work, is the “main purpose” of those obtaining visas. By putting further restrictions on the amount of time that students can stay in the UK on study visas, limiting work-during-term permissions (down to 10 hours per week for students at public sector further education colleges and 20 hours per week for those at university), and reducing the amount of work down on work placement courses for non-university students from 50:50 (which is allowed now) to two-thirds study, one-third work.

If the plans go as hoped, May expects the new measures will reduce the number of student visas issued by 70,000 – 80,000 annually – equivalent to a 25% fall. And with the right to bring dependants being removed for all but postgraduate and Government-sponsored students, officials also believe the number of dependants coming to the UK will drop by around 20,000.

Although many education professionals agree with the Plans’ aims of protecting the standards and reputations of the country’s higher education institutions, some worry about other, unintended potential outcomes – including a drop in income from the reduced numbers of foreign students, and the possibility that a lack of short-term work opportunities could result in the loss of some of the brightest candidates, who could easily choose to study (and work) elsewhere.

Source: “Number of foreign students to be cut by 25 per cent.” The Independent, March 22, 2011.
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/number-of-foreign-students-to-be-cut-by-25-per-cent-2249770.html

2) ABROAD PERSPECTIVES – Cultivating an international mindset for all.

As job markets become increasingly more competitive, universities are forced to find new ways to ensure their students gain that elusive ‘edge’. As the work world becomes more ‘global’, some schools are also looking beyond borders, such as Princeton University.

Princeton’s Vice Provost for International Initiatives, Diana Davies, implements the goals outlined in the 2007 “Princeton in the World” report, which maps out a new ‘international vision’ for the university.

Besides the standard term or year-long abroad study exchange opportunities, Princeton seeks alternative ways to encourage students to gain international experience. Increased program funding, internship opportunities, and an easy-to-use online database, all help students find and fund their trips overseas.

But apart from finances, Davies says there’s still another major hurdle to overcome – the mindset.

“When I speak with alumni,” she says, “some say they were not encouraged to study abroad while they were students. Some felt they could not manage time abroad with their academic commitments and independent work, while others did not want to miss the great educational experiences at Princeton if they left for a semester. We are working to overcome these assumptions and show students there are many ways to have an international experience that complements, not competes with, their life on campus.”

These ‘other ways’ include the school’s Bridge Year Program, in which newly accepted students can defer their freshman studies for a year in order to take part in an overseas service program, and a Global Seminars program. Organized by the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies, this program allows undergraduate students to spend six weeks during the summer in a country at the heart of the seminar’s subject matter. For example, this summer, one of the student groups will travel to Galway for a course on theatre in contemporary Ireland.

“About 47 percent of undergraduate students [currently] have an international experience, and we want to get that number up to 100 percent,” says Davies, adding that the push does not end there.

“Although many of our graduate students also study and conduct research abroad, we’d like to increase their opportunities to spend significant periods of time studying and researching at partner institutions overseas.”

Source: “Perspective on: Internationalism at Princeton”. News at Princeton, February 17, 2011.
http://www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S29/77/06O69/index.xml?section=featured

3) OVER THE COUNTER – More scams down under.

In yet another blow to the Australian higher education system, a corruption hearing has been told that an immigration scam allegedly operating at Curtin University could also be running at the University of Western Australia.

During the official corruption hearing last week, Indian national and self-proclaimed ‘middle man’, Pritesh Shah, explained the scam – one in which foreign students paid tens of thousands of dollars in bribes to a Curtin employee to falsify English test results needed for visa applications. Personally, Shah says he made more than $30,000 between 2009 and 2010 in helping the students obtain these fake results.

Shah testified that he would take money from students, pass it onto another intermediary, who passed it on a staff member at Curtin University to doctor the results. When asked if this scam was operating anywhere else, Shah said he knew of a man doing exactly the same thing at the University of Western Australia.

The corruption hearing has been told students paid intermediaries between $1,000 to $11,000 to receive the falsified test results from Curtin. So far, six Indian students have already admitted to taking part in the fraud.

Source: “Allegations visa scam operating at second university.” ABC News, March 23, 2011.
http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2011/03/23/3172000.htm?section=justin

4) GLOBE TIPPING – Airfare Lotto: When’s the best time to buy your ticket?

Deciding when to buy airline tickets can always be a bit of a gamble. Prices go up and down, and seat sales appear out of the blue. But with recent world events causing oil prices to fluctuate, it’s becoming harder than ever to decide just how far in advance to lock in your flights.

So far this year airlines have raised prices six times, compared with only three increases last year, according to Farecompare.com which tracks ticket prices. Bing Travel (http://www.bing.com/travel/) states that overall fares are up by around 18% for travel in late May through early June, compared with last year. So how does a traveler decide when to book?

Although some tips are a bit conflicting, there’s one thing all travel predictors agree on: if you’re planning to travel in April or May, book now! According the Farecompare.com’s Chief Executive, Rick Seaney, rising oil price trends are currently very similar to those in 2008 – when airlines raised rates five times by early March, and then increased them again by about $10/week throughout April.

Where you find conflicting advice is for summer flights, with some experts suggesting it’s best to buy airfares as soon as possible (to beat the high demand and rising prices), while others suggest waiting just a bit, until you can compare some of the early April seat sales which don’t usually come out until the end of March.

Apart from this more general timing knowledge, there are some more specific insider tips – including the benefits of booking now for business class to Europe. Several airlines including Aer Lingus, Continental and Delta, are introducing special business class sales to Europe for spring and summer. So it’s possible to snag some great prices. One of the best deals this month: $1,198 US (excluding taxes) to London on Delta from Boston, Miami, or Tampa.

Another option is to book early and keep an eye out for price drops – as some airlines do offer to refund differences in fares (minus a rebooking fee) in the form of a voucher, to customers who book directly with the airline, rather than through a travel agency. By entering your confirmation booking number in Yapta.com, you can easily (and freely!) track the price of your ticket. If the difference in price exceeds the rebooking fee, Yapta will immediately send you an email or Twitter alert notification.

Meanwhile, Orbitz.com also offers its own refund service for airline tickets, with refunds of $5 to $250 a traveler, if another Orbitz customer books the same ticket on the site for less.

And finally, for those hoping to snag a great rate at the last minute, keep an eye on sites like Airfarewatchdog.com and Farecompare.com , which track fares. Just be prepared to act fast, as many sales are extremely short, or limited to a certain number of bookings.

Source: “Buy Early or Wait?” NYTimes, March 23, 2011.
http://travel.nytimes.com/2011/03/27/travel/27prac-fares.html

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