London Metropolitan University – Coalition policy-making at its absolute worst

Chris McKeon 4 September 2012

And so the extended car crash that is the Coalition’s involvement with education continues with the decision to revoke London Metropolitan University’s licence to authorise visas for international students. As with all the government’s other decisions on education, this one shows coalition policy-making at its absolute worst.

Firstly, it is an utterly inappropriate and ham-fisted measure. If some people were exploiting poor administration on London Met’s part then, of course, they should be identified and deported, but this goes far beyond that. By revoking the university’s licence just weeks before the beginning of the academic year, a good number of students – genuine students innocent of any crime – will be left confused, afraid and quite possibly deported because they came here in good faith seeking an education.

This punishing of the innocent for the crimes and incompetence of others alone would be unforgivable. However, even worse than this, the government apparently failed to plan for this obvious eventuality in advance. A task force is now being established in order to help genuine students find other courses but this has only occurred after the announcement – an announcement which most of those affected would have had to read about in the newspaper. Now thousands of students will receive threatening letters at the start of October telling them they have 60 days to get a new course or get out because the government has simply rushed into this action without adequately planning for it. It is a study in incompetence.

And it gets worse. The UK Border Agency’s decision, ill-planned as it is, forms just the latest in a series of moves which have made the UK an increasingly hostile place for foreign students. Visas are becoming harder and more expensive to obtain, choking off a source of both cultural and financial enrichment. And why? Because foreign students are an easy target for a Conservative Party committed to reducing immigration (and their Lib Dem partners who seem to have changed their views on this subject since the election two years ago).

International students are also a pointless target. They bring in far more than they take out, they do not occupy a single ‘British’ job and they do not deprive UK students of places – and certainly not to the extent that some of the Coalition’s other higher education policies have. But never mind, what matters to the government is that David Cameron can stand up before the rabid section of the Conservative Party – the section that he is usually desperate to keep locked in the basement of Tory headquarters – and tell them not to worry because while the economy may still be on the slide, net migration is down and there are fewer foreigners in the country.

This is the real crime here. The international students of London Met, just like this year’s GCSE students, have been the victims of a government that treats education, which most would rightly view as a vital part of government policy, as nothing more than fodder for conference speeches. With their eyes only on their poll ratings, the government have rushed into a policy decision which will cause far more problems than it will solve. It should not have been done in this way, nor at this time. But, most of all, it should not have been done for the sake of image, for the sake of looking tough on immigration with only the slightest concern for the actual, human impact. Put simply, thousands of students are being put under unnecessary stress by a rushed, inappropriate and poorly executed move all because the ministers of this government are simply bad at their jobs.

Chris McKeon