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 51.

    39 Everything involves "real people". This university broke rules them and its status had to been duely revoked. For years immigration was unmonitored, people here of all creeds and races suffered as public services crumbled and the Labour party accused everyone of racism. Now they have been forced to apologise. British people are liberal but there has to be rules. This is a good thing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    London Met attracts a large number of rich students from China who simply DO NOT speak English. Years ago, I was paid a lot of money to proof-read/translate the thesis of a rich Chinese student at London Met doing a masters course and she barely spoke any English at all. Her essays were written in Chinese, fed through google translate. Is her case unique? Hardly. Am I surprised today? Not at all!

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    Is it my imagination or are we in the pre party conference silly season.

    Nick Clegg promised his supporters to tax the rich more.
    The Tories now want to send home many students who have spent a small fortune on courses, many ruining there chance of qualifying.
    God only knows what Ed will promise his labour supporters.

    Check students individually and send those that fail immigration home.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Why are people are blaming the UKBA and Government?

    The University failed their students by not following the rules. They wanted to cash in the foreign students, and then did not make sure that they had valid students who followed the rules?

    What is the Government to do? If I were a student at this Uni, my lawsuit would be against the Uni and not the government!

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    This heavy-handed indiscriminate way of strengthening the demonization of overseas' students is already rebounding on the UK: I am a UK citizen who often gets asked advice about UK universities. The increased restrictions driven by popular-media hype about non-UK citizens already means I am cautious about recommending students apply to universities in my country: UK. My colleagues are emulating me

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    'Marbles' - maybe you've lost yours. How does it make perfect sense to disrupt the lives of honest hard working students from other countries who are trying to better themselves? The government have used a very blunt and large hammer to crack the wrong nut. Penalise the universities and their management, not innocent students who are now out of pocket and may have their futures ruined.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Agree with the decison to punish any institution abusing the Student Visa system.

    Do not agree with punishing genuine existing students who have already paid for their uni courses and will now no longer get a degree.

    There should be some compassion for these students at the very least.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    If students are here illegally take action against them. If the University has acted incorrectly take action against it. Do not punish innocent students who have likely made tremendous sacrifices to come here. This is immoral and sends out a terrible message about the UK. And will these students not have made expensive travel/accommodation commitments?

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    The universities just need to improve their vetting process, it's really not difficult to tell that a prospective student can't fulfil the criteria to speak English etc.

    I don't see what the fuss is about, if the Unis adhere to the required standards there's no problem, if they don't, then it's their own fault.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    It doesn't seem fair to punish the 75% or so of students who do have a valid visa for the failings of the University. Could London Met not be banned from recruiting any more without jeopardising the education of people who have worked hard and made sacrifices to get a place to study in the UK? It leaves a bad taste in my mouth that this is being done in all our names.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Scare mongering universities is not going to solve the issue of net migration. This approach resulted in my partner being erroneously deported. The UKBA have since realised their error and reversed their decision. Clearly, the UKBA needs to re-evaluate their approach to catching 'bogus students' because otherwise they are in danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    UKBA is wielding a very big stick indiscriminately. It seems not only can UKBA remove LMU right to take in foreign students, but also removing their right to teach foreign students. Even if the entire class can show they have proper visas, LMU no longer have the right to teach them. This means thousands of innocent students can’t finish their courses.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    UKBA forget real people are involved. Where is compassion for people? They must let genuine students complete their degrees. There are problems transferring to another uni now in the academic year, no 2 offer exactly the same course; moving to the final year of a 1st degree will be difficult; but higher degrees will be nigh impossible, whether a taught masters or a research supervisor is needed

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    This makes perfect sense. Letting people into the country who should only be here for study needs to be monitored and policed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Student visas need to be monitored properly but, once again we see the government applying a simplistic knee jerk solution to an issue that required a more measured and focused approach. Presumably working out a strategy that both addressed the problem and protected the students who are legitimately studying in this country was beyond them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    However, i feel sorry for those legitimate students in thier final 2 years that now face the prospect of not finishing thier course or rushing round to find a course, its a shame the UKBA cannot be a little more flexible with these students and allow them to stay and complete the course.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    The trusted status comes first, the 'hoops' afterwards - all uni's got awarded HTS, LMU just failed 3 hoops. Public schools recruit heavily from overseas, so there is a logic in including them. They have exactly the same hoops to go though in satisfying UKBA as every other Hight Trusted Status organisation. There is a race issue here - but class war too? I very much doubt it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    The article isn't entirely accurate in saying that 142 of 250 students had attendance problems. What I heard UKBA saying was that there was insufficient EVIDENCE of attendance. This can mean mislaid registers or inadequately-kept records. If this is the case, students should not be punished.

    I have no expert knowledge but a concern for accuracy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Instead of damaging the multi-billion pound higher education industry in order to reach its ridiculous goal of reducing net migration the government should simply encourage UK born students to study abroad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    The govts,Unis knew everything all the while and turned a bling eye as these Voice less Cash-Cows were bringing in billions of pounds of cash,hefty immigration fees, sustain the housing/rental bubble, fill up the odd-jobs and boost local spending.Timing of this decision is stupid, just before a new term?Why is the VC and authorities not suspended?


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