Cambridge University Students’ Union (CUSU) has joined a growing chorus of voices condemning the government’s decision to revoke London Metropolitan University’s licence to accept international students, which has placed more than 2,000 students at risk of deportation.
On Wednesday evening, the UK Border Agency (UKBA), an agency of the Home Office, officially revoked London Met’s “Highly Trusted Status” (HTS) for sponsoring international students, after a series of failures led to the suspension of its HTS status in July.
The removal of HTS status means that London Met is no longer allowed to authorise visas to teach and recruit students from outside the EU. This means up to 2,700 non-EU international students in the middle of their degrees at London Met will have to find an alternative institution at which to study, or they will be faced with removal from the UK.
CUSU have described the UKBA’s decision as “entirely disproportionate”, and have joined the National Union of Students (NUS) in calling for it to be overturned.
Rosalyn Old, CUSU President, was keen to point out the impact of the decision not just on London Met, but on UK universities more widely, including Cambridge. She said: “It’s time the Government stopped using international students to fiddle immigration statistics.
“The Border Agency’s decision to revoke this licence and deport thousands of legitimate students, is just one part of a dangerous agenda to discourage international students from coming to study in the UK.
“At a time when universities and their students are suffering under serious budget cuts, the Border Agency’s decision is a serious blow to the exceptionally diverse, international, academic community which makes UK Universities including Cambridge world class.”
A government task force has been set up to help London Met students, many of whom have already spent tens of thousands on a degree they will be unable to complete, look for new places of study. The government is waiting to see how many students can successfully find new sponsors before the UKBA issues official notices giving them 60 days to obtain new student visas or leave the country voluntarily, on pain of deportation.
Dozens of London Met students and their supporters staged a silent protest yesterday in front of the Downing Street gates, with tape over their mouths, before being moved across the street by police.
London Met’s vice-chancellor Professor Malcolm Gillies has condemned the UKBA’s ruling, telling the BBC: “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 revocation of London Met’s HTS status comes after it “failed to address serious and systemic failings” in three particular areas. UKBA figures showed that over a quarter of 101 students sampled at the university between December 2011 and May 2012 were found to have no leave to remain in the UK.
In addition, 20 of 50 files checked since May were found to contain “no proper evidence” that students had attained the mandatory proficiency in English.
Thirdly, inadequate monitoring in 57% of sampled records meant there was no proof that these students were actually attending lectures or classes.
Immigration Minister Damian Green told Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday: “London Metropolitan has shown that it is very, very seriously deficient as a sponsor”.
Indeed, in light of London Met’s failings, not all Cambridge students are happy with CUSU’s position. One third-year Girtonian, who asked not to be named, said: “I think CUSU and some of the rest of us here in Cambridge are forgetting that this happened only after what was evidently egregious misconduct on the part of London Met University.
“I heard one supporter of the protest, when challenged over the issue of non-attendance on Radio 5live this afternoon, arguing that London Met can’t be expected to keep track of student attendance at the University.
“Surely that is a key part of any University’s operational responsibilities – they must take responsibility for monitoring and addressing issues of non-attendance and supporting students who are struggling with the language and adapting to life in the UK.”
“Panic and potential heartbreak”
The NUS has contacted David Cameron and Theresa May to “express anger at the way that decisions have been made in recent weeks”. Liam Burns, NUS President, said in a statement, “This decision will create panic and potential heartbreak for students not just at London Met but also all around the country”. He has called on students nationwide to support London Met through lobbying of vice-chancellors and MPs.
The UKBA’s decision may also have grave consequences for London Met’s finances. £23m of the university’s £158m income in 2010-11 came from overseas fees.
The removal of London Met’s HTS status comes as the government attempts to cut levels of net migration into the UK to below 100,000, in part by “clamping down” on people from outside the EU entering Britain as students but seeking work instead. It recently abolished international students’ automatic right to stay in the UK for two years after graduation.
In June this year, Cambridge University Council, issued a statement expressing “concerns about the impact of recent government policy on immigration”.
It said: “The rules surrounding UK border controls keep changing and lack flexibility. The UK is seen by our prospective students abroad as unwelcoming; recruitment to academic posts in a highly competitive market could also be damaged by a similar perception; the best will simply go elsewhere. A xenophobic reputation once gained is difficult to dispel.”
Michael Yoganayagam, Associate News Editor