Norwich language schools warn of 40pc drop in student numbers in �18m industry
Note to subs: Can we get a ragout of the EDP splash from Tuesday on UEA warns of cash threat? Thanks
Norfolk language schools today warned a Government drive to cut immigrants was hurting Norwich's economy.
The language industry is estimated to be worth �18m a year to the city, but one privately-run school said its numbers had dropped by 40pc since last April when Home Secretary Theresa May introduced stricter rules for foreign students.
Director of studies at Flying Classrooms School of English in Tombland, Veronica Snell, said the industry was being strangled by visa regulations.
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Her warning came after the UEA said government plans to include foreign students in an immigration cap would have a 'terrible' effect on the county's economy.
In Tuesday's EDP the university's vice-chancellor, Edward Acton, said its 2011 cohort of non-EU students would bring �35.6m to Norfolk.
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But the Government said it had to be more selective about letting people into the country.
It wants to cut net immigration to the UK to less than 100,000 people a year - down from 250,000 at the moment.
Mrs Snell said: 'Making regulations so impossible for both potential students and the schools themselves means that the students will chose to go to study English in another country and the schools will have no choice but to close their doors.
'The government is tarring all language schools with the same brush, claiming that by tightening student visa regulations, they can eliminate bogus language schools.
'However, this is without considering all those small language schools in the UK who are totally genuine.'
The regulations introduced to clamp down on bogus language schools include only granting visas to students who already speak good English; allowing students to stay for a shorter time; and restricting them from working while studying in the UK.
Owner of the Flying Classrooms, which had 48 students this week, down from a peak last year of 125, Kumi Wiedmann, said students, particularly from Saudi Arabia, brought lots of money from their home countries which they spent in the city's shops, on taxis and on rent to host families.
Kim Richardson, 55, who has rented rooms to foreign students for over four years, said the income was her livelihood.
'We look for long-term tenants but it has become increasingly difficult and a lot of language schools are suffering. It is causing host families problems,' she said.
Jonathan Matthews, administration director at the ICS English school in Pottergate estimated their numbers had dropped by 20pc.
'We have definitely seen some impact,' he said. 'Abroad it has created a sense of not being welcome (to the UK) which is a very bad message to send out to our students because they are important to our economy and they feed into the university.
'It seems very short-sighted on the Government's part.'
Mr Matthews added it was 'ridiculous' for the Home Office to require students coming to Norwich to learn English to already need a high-level in the language.
He said: 'The Government has wanted to show it is doing something robust on immigration and looked around for a target.'
But a UK Border Agency spokesman defended the stricter rules.
He said: 'The government has introduced radical reforms in order to stamp out abuse in the student visa system.
'It is vital that we continue to attract the brightest and the best international students but we have to be more selective about who can come here and how long they can stay.'