We seek to rectify misleading headlines that have appeared with changes to the UK immigration system

Written by Vikram Chaudhary | Updated: Oct 29 2012, 07:13am hrs
Universities UK is a membership organisation, supported by a staff of approximately 100 in its three offices and led by the chief executive, Nicola Dandridge, who is responsible for the leadership and management of Universities UK. With its head office in Woburn House in London, Universities UK has offices in Edinburgh (Universities Scotland) and Cardiff (Higher Education Wales). The chief executive is appointed by the UK Board and reports to the Universities UK president. In an interaction with Vikram Chaudhary of The Financial Express, Ms Dandridgewho became chief executive of Universities UK in September 2009shares the functioning of Universities UK and her thoughts on why the UK remains one of the most attractive destinations in the world for international students. Excerpts:

What is the mission and key aims of Universities UK

Universities UK is the organisation that represents the heads of all the UKs universities. Its mission is to be the collective voice for all universities in the UK, promoting the strength and success of UK universities nationally and internationally. Universities UK has 134 member institutions and offices in London, Cardiff and Edinburgh.

How does Universities UK help prospective students who are looking to study in the UK, especially London

As the representative body of the heads of UK universities, Universities UK does not assist individual students directly. We are, however, committed to ensuring that all prospective international students have a positive experience in the UK and we work to make sure that their interests are always protected. Organisations such as the British Council have a remit to help prospective students looking to study in the UK. They provide advice and guidance on a whole range of issues. Their website Education UK (www.educationuk.org) gives advice and guidance on a whole range of issues, from courses to study, different institutions to more general information on life in Britain.

How much has the student visa row damaged the image of UK higher education, if it has

We must make sure that clumsily-handled changes to our visa rules do not drown out the reality of the situation.

The UK remains one of the most attractive destinations in the world for international students, and rightly so. The vast majority of international students have a very positive experience here, and the reputation of UK universities overseas remains strong, in terms of quality and global rankings. We have expressed concerns previously that the rhetoric and negative headlines about immigration and student visas risks presenting the UK as a country that does not welcome genuine students from around the world who are drawnfor a period of studyto our numerous, world-class universities.

We are also now seeking to rectify some of the more damaging, and often misleading, headlines that have appeared about changes to the UK immigration system. It is true that the system has been tightened up so as to eliminate fraudulent use of the student route. And at Universities UK we are pleased to be working closely with government on this. But UK universities do still welcome international students. Students can still work for 20 hours a week during their studies, and post-study work opportunities, in graduate jobs, are still available.

Recently, the UK Border Agency warned that Indian students applying to study in the UK should stay clear of unscrupulous agents What is your take on this

There have been reports of some education agents overseas exaggerating what they can offer prospective students. Universities UK supports the British Councils International Code Of Ethics For Education Agents. This was established to ensure that recruitment agents acting overseas for UK universities adhere to the highest of standards in their code of conduct. Universities take any evidence of agents operating outside agreed parameters very seriously. Typically, UK universities will investigate the reputation and quality of agents before entering into a contractual relationship with them.

It is important to stress that education agents are not able to guarantee places at UK universities. While agents may signpost applicants to universities, decisions on admissions lie solely with the university.

It is also worth bearing in mind that many UK universities websites often feature information on which agents they use.

How did the recent event Access to Higher Education Summit: The Bottom Line go What were the learnings from the same

This conferencenow a major annual eventwas an opportunity for senior higher education figures and experts to discuss the issue of widening access to university (that is, ensuring that students from all backgrounds are able to progress into higher education). The topic relates mainly to funding and policy relating to domestic students. Delegates discussed the wider benefits of education for students, communities and society as a whole. The conference also reflected on the impact of the new funding system in England on access and widening participation. The Rt Hon Alan Milburnindependent reviewer on social mobilityspoke at the event and delegates discussed the recommendations of his latest report. Other speakers included Professor Eric Thomas, president of Universities UK and vice-chancellor of the University of Bristol; Mary Curnock Cook, chief executive of UCAS; David Barrett, assistant director, Office for Fair Access (OFFA); speakers from Action on Access, the Association of Colleges, Higher Education Academy and Quality Assurance Agency.