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.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 211.

    Its about time UKBA took some action to curb the serial abuse by students. Interesting that chinese illegal migration has all but dried up because they can get a student visa so easily. This should be a warning to other univs/colleges that they must step up to the mark if they want to keep the ability to host foreign students. Well done UKBA - well done HO Ministers (bout time you got some spine)

  • rate this

    Comment number 210.

    I feel sorry for the students. Bad administration at the Uni has possibly cost them dear and the institution is an easy target. It deflects from the UKBA job losses and understaffing. Like everything, if you're serious in politics about sorting something out, you need to spend money. This government will not and the electorate are happy to allow that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 209.

    tough on economic recovery tough on the causes of economic recovery

    when will the omnishambles stop?!

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    This is about the govt being seen to be controlling immigration. If they were serious they'd announce the commissioning of a system to scan EVERY foreign passport at EVERY point of entry and exit, cross reference with issued visas and if the passport hasn't been scanned exiting the UK when it should the owner is tracked down and deported. Simple. Why won't they do it? Cost, of course!

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.

    if it helps fight against some of the blatant abuse of the finances of this country then i'm all for it.
    the war against the scroungers,the sham disabled,scumbag squatters has finally come.

  • rate this

    Comment number 206.

    A student may start a course with the best intentions, but lose interest and stop attending, a university having determined that a student is abusing the visa rules, the university informs UKBA and revokes its sponsorship. It is then up to UKBA to ensure that the person leaves the country. At least those attending the university without valid visas made themselves easy to find.

  • rate this

    Comment number 205.

    u guys are missing the point, they are given the "trusted" status on the assumption they will ensure they only sponsor appropriate people, im sure there is plenty of financial gain for them have this status, it is their own fault for not complying with the rules.

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    I don't object to the tests. The very issue here is WHO should be doing it. UKBA is playing Pontius Pilate, throwing the task on others, and then penalising them if they don't get it right, whilst washing their hands on the issue. Sure, LMU were a bit thick reacting to the rules. But a university shouldn't be playing Border Police, it is NOT what they do best and they shouldn't be doing it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    I cannot blame the UKBA, it's bad management at LMU. The fact is that 90% of these non-EU students never go back to their home countries when they finish their studies anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    if it means more people who shouldnt be here are not able to abuse my taxes by taking advantage of services they shouldnt then thats fine by me! we are not here to work hard and subsidide the global population's every whim and issue. if they test me for my entitlement I will pass so no skin off my nose.

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    Sure GovHater1.... Next it will be doctors & nurses (next time you go to hospital don't complain if instead of getting seen you are tested for your entitlement to be there), then shoppers, and of course transport. In the meantime, UKBA instead of checking and policing on immigrants will be policing and checking on universities, the NHS, the shops and the railway companies.... Fine arrangement....

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    It IS the LMU's job to police these people and ensure they are not here unlawfully, how can anyone argue, they must do this to keep their status as "trusted" they must also remove all student as the uni have proven themselves untrustworthy, how can you guarantee they performed all appropriate assessments to any student ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    Alan #195 "The Government chose to make the Uni's enforce the law by checking their students so they could 'cut' the civil servants who used to enforce it."

    Exactly my point! This isn't what universities or employers should be doing beyond checking students/employees have the relevant paperwork. And least of all, penalise those honest students who have been deemed guilty by association.

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    If the electorate wanted stronger borders,a more robust immigration system, prosecution of more smugglers etc then why did it elect the Tories that cut 5000 Border Force officers?I suppose it's the British idea of wanting a top class public service but not being prepared to pay for it.This is what you get when private business enforces laws.Remember this ruling doesn't affect Eton or Harrow

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    153. SunnyDisp "yet EU students with hardly any command of English are allowed without being tested...shame!"

    Eh? Of course we are being tested, we are required to take the IELTS test. I was asked to take that test when I applied to uni in 2004, even though I already had the Cambridge CPE. Where did you read that EU students are not being tested?

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    At a time UKBA cannot control the immigrants in this country how do they expect an educational institute to control the immigration. Universities should provide education while UKBA controls the immigration

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    As a Border Force Officer I see the 3rd country nationals arriving to study-from genuine ones whos high fees bring us great revenue through to scammers who will work to send money home.The Government chose to make the Uni's enforce the law by checking their students so they could 'cut' the civil servants who used to enforce it.LMU got caught profiteering.Result of privatising the civil service

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    This is ridiculous. Focusing on whether LMU complied with stupid rules or not is missing the point. It is farcical to request a University to do the UKBA's job. Meanwhile, UKBA still keep on increasing fees for visas and reducing their involvement in the process. Universities should be concentrating on teaching and ensuring that students provide a valid visa. Not becoming the Border Police.

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    The Foreign education system is in this country is a joke. UKBA allow colleges to run away with innocent students money but no actions being taken .Students are being punished and given 60 days either to leave the country or to change to another uni. It is UKBA who made the biggest mess

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    182. Dear Vivan,
    It is unfair and misleading to generalise that all Ex-polytechnics are having similar practice. It is not true that all Ex-polytechnics are lower tier tertiary institutes, some of these institutes have existed for more than 100 years with excellent track record in education and research. It also appears discriminating when you generalise about South Asian students. It is unfair.


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