Analysis: London Met's foreign students


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Why has London Metropolitan University been banned from accepting foreign students from outside of the European Union?

The UK Border Agency's decision to revoke its licence comes down to a judgement in government that the institution could not be trusted to help stop illegal immigration.

The UK's modern immigration system has been designed to force universities to do more to make sure that only the right students get in - and that those who should leave do so at the end of their courses.

London Met had a special status as a "Highly Trusted Sponsor" (HTS).

The HTS system was introduced so that universities who benefit directly from migration do what they can to help prevent the education system being used by people who want to work illegally, rather than study.

The system means that a university or college has to take reasonable steps to ensure that an applicant is a genuine student.

Once the university is satisfied with its own assessment, which includes language skills, it provides a certificate that sponsors the individual as they apply for a visa to come to the UK.

If the UKBA does not grant visas to at least eight out of 10 prospective students, it can revoke an institution's HTS status on the grounds that it hasn't been properly checking applicants.

A university can also lose its status if more than 10% of sponsored students don't actually enrol or if there is a significant drop-out rate from the course - both potential signs of students disappearing to work illegally.

Finally, universities must show that enrolled students are making academic progression - turning up and handing in their essays.

Sounds complicated? The full rules on the UKBA website run to 72 pages.

Three tests

So what happened at London Met? Basically, it failed three tests.

The UKBA sampled up to 250 files at London Met to see how rigorously it was monitoring its foreign students.

Damian Green: "I am not chucking anyone out... I am enforcing the rules"

In the first test, officials found that 26 out of 101 sampled students had no valid visa to be in the UK. In the second, officials concluded that 142 out of 250 had attendance problems.

When it came to speaking English, 20 of 50 sampled certificates - the university's seal of approval for a student - showed evidence that their English had not been properly tested.

Those results were enough to convince the UKBA that the university had to lose its status.

The question that we simply cannot answer is how many of the students caught up in the middle of all of this are genuine or bogus. The point the UKBA is making is that London Met's procedures were not good enough to know one way or the other.

That, however, is not good enough for the university. Professor Malcolm Gillies, the vice chancellor, has described the UKBA's decision as "not particularly cogent" which is a polite way of saying sheer lunacy.

Start Quote

I quite understand why the UKBA is concerned about unscrupulous colleges above a chip shop on the High Street, but they are being overly suspicious of universities”

End Quote Immigration lawyer Edward Wanambwa

He goes on: "I would go so far as to say that UKBA has been rewriting its own guidelines on this issue and this is something which should cause concern to all universities in the UK."

The impact of this decision on London Met's foreign students is potentially life-changing. Their visa and permission to be in the UK is entirely dependent on the fact that they are sponsored by a trusted organisation.

If the organisation is no longer trusted, then the student has no right to stay. So, unless its 2,000 non-EU students can find another institution and course, they could be out or pocket within months - and out of the country to boot.

The UKBA has been targeting private colleges in a crackdown on illegal immigration scams - but has it now crossed the Rubicon by going after a university?

London Met has a chequered history and has faced criticism in the past about how it has managed its internal affairs. That's why officials say today that the London Met decision may be a one-off in exceptional circumstances.

But two other universities, Glasgow Caledonian and Teesside, were earlier warned they could lose their status before being given the all clear.

The BBC has learnt that two further universities have sought legal advice amid growing fears that they could lose their HTS status.

So what happens now? Students will scramble to find replacement courses and there could be legal action running to tens of millions of pounds.

Immigration lawyer Edward Wanambwa of Russell Cooke Solicitors says London Met could judicially review the UKBA decision - but students could separately sue the university for their massive personal losses.

"The UKBA has been confusing universities with colleges," he says. "I quite understand why the UKBA is concerned about unscrupulous colleges above a chip shop on the High Street, but they are being overly suspicious of universities."

The bigger picture

One final point. The immigration fate of 2,000 students hardly affects the government's target to cut net migration to tens of thousands by the end of the Parliament.

The latest figures - published on the same day that we learnt of the London Met decision - show that the government is still a long way from achieving that goal.

Study remains the most common reason for migrating to the UK estimated at 232,000 in the year to December 2011, just a few thousand down on the previous year.

The Home Office says that more recent data shows a big drop in new student visas and that may, in time, be the deciding factor.

Dominic Casciani Article written by Dominic Casciani Dominic Casciani Home affairs correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    I note that when the new Student Visa rules came into operation all Public Schools were automatically given Highly Trusted Status. Now why didn't they need to jump through all these hoops? was the old school tie network good enough trust?

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    This is really bad news for the sector as a whole. Why are legitimate students going to head to UK, investing huge sums of money, when there's a risk the UKBA will send them home half way through their studies?

    We've already revoked the year long post-study work option. Other countries are starting to look like much better destinations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    I lived in Holloway until 2009, and it was an open secret that "anyone" could get a place at LMU. I find it hard to believe that the Uni administration knew nothing was amiss until 6 months ago.

    It beggars belief that lecturers didn't raise the issue of an overly high proportion on non-English speakers.

    The tragedy is that many, many legitimate students will suffer for LMU's ineptitude.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    The UKBA identified failings 6 months ago. London Met should have worked hell for leather to sort the problems out and identify the fake students. Either management neglected to do so or the problems were so endemic it was impossible to do so.

    London Met's well known financial problems and desparation for overseas fee income must have contributed to this. Can't see them surviving I'm afraid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    I am one of the students now being asked to leave in 60 days. I am a master's level architect born in the US, but fondly attached to the UK. Sadly, over the year I have been here I have received this fleecing again and again. First they removed the post-study work visa because naturally no one would want my highly skilled labor. Now this is a direct slap in the face.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    I came to London from a Latin America country to do an MA course. Part of the reason I chose the UK is because I felt it is country where law is respected and people who break the laws are sanctioned. That is important when you come from countries where lawlessness and corruption abound. Seeing the UKBA do its job only strengthens my confidence in the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Kuan asks how it makes sense if the cost of using student status as a route to immigration is more than you can earn dish-washing. Well the logical answer has to be that once in as a 'student' you can earn you a lot more than you would get dish-washing. Also it is clear from the UKBA survey of London Met that once in these people tend to stay in. It must be better and safer than being smuggled in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    It sounds like London Met has been doing an abysmal job and deserves sanctions. However, I think one must consider the overall impression this gives to potential overseas students who will read scary headlines in their own countries about how insecure study in the UK is. A PR nightmare for the HE industry regardless of institution.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    This government allows those that do not contribute to fester and procreate in Britain, whilst shutting out those who do wish to integrate and contribute. It thinks that by reducing numbers blindly, it can achieve a better UK. Well, so far it has removed the talented and allowed the incompetent to remain behind.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    It is worrying that a government organisation like UKBA has been given powers to directly and so negatively affect the future of so many bona fide students who came to the UK in good faith. A more careful process is required here, where Universities are helped to develop robust systems to monitor their students, rather than treat these foreign students suddenly as if they are a danger to the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Recently I bumped into a manager at my old workplace, an established, respectable FE college in S.E. London, definitely not a visa scam shop. She said their 'trusted status' had just been revoked; Another FE college I worked for also had its status revoked. At a recent job interview a college told me they had to employ a team of lawyers just to deal with UKBA for 16-18 year olds learning English.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    If UKBA had surgically punished the university and the bogus students, it would have been proportional and supportive. Instead we have a highly incompetent, backfiring sledgehammer approach that tars and destroys fee paying legitimate students. You wouldn't want to be in the shoes of these legit students, however small their proportion is. State has a duty of care.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    "The UKBA has been confusing universities with colleges," he says. "I quite understand why the UKBA is concerned about unscrupulous colleges above a chip shop on the High Street, but they are being overly suspicious of universities."

    Lets also not confuse bogus training above a chip-shops with real Further Education & Sixth Form 'Colleges' many of which have HTS & very robust checking processes

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Very damaging. Plenty of students studying hard to get their degrees who have paid a lot of money to study. Indiscriminate action has thrown the plans of thousands of people into confusion. Why not FINE the university or put them under some sort of oversight. Withdrawal of their license is absurd. The University can't even complete the degrees of people who have studied there for 3 years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    expenses per year = tuition £15000 + living £10000 = £25,000
    not allowed to work full time on student visa but they do = not a legit job = wishing dishes in restaurants etc. (can't even wait tables cuz according to UKBA they don't speak English).
    making £5 to 10 per hour = £10,000 to £20,000 per year.
    student visa = NO social benefits
    Now does that make sense?

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    It doesn't damage the UK's reputation as an education provider: the UK still offers superior standards of education to many countries...the university has damaged its own reputation by failing in its necessary duties to ensure that only people who can understand the language (i.e. pass an English test) and that are genuine students are admitted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    I think the law should be enforced & that no institution should be too big to fail, but how hard would it be for the UKBA to set up a system for, in the next 60 days, existing students to produce the requisite docs to finish their studies at LondonMet. Have the UKBA directly clear & effectively sponsor them. Then focus can rightly fall back on the senior management team who've failed here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    I think this approach is penalising not only the University (which may be justified) but also the genuine undergraduates who are part way through their courses and have met and continue to meet the required criteria. By all means, send home those people who do not meet the agreed standard and withdraw the University's right to attract future overseas students but do not punish the innocent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    These students pay something in the region of £12000 to £15000 per year in tuition fees alone. Allegedly, a significant number use their visas to work illegally. Can somebody tell me what sort of jobs they get? It must be exceedingly well paid for them to recoup their investment and cover living expenses. Bankers?

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    The existing students should be looked after and ''found'' alternative places elsewhere - its not their fault.

    Good on UKBA for starting to sort all this out. Many genuine students do work hard at their studies and we must welcome them. Things like this give the UK a bad name.

    weed out the rot - and lets welcome the genuine students (who are the vast majority) and their income!


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