UKBA’s decision to suspend London Metropolitan University’s (LMU) license to sponsor overseas student visas

Background

Over the past few years, the UK government has launched a series of increasingly desperate measures to stem, what some in the UK perceive to be ‘a tide’ of immigrants flooding their shores. The latest measure, seemingly to such effect, was the revocation of the Highly Trusted Status (HTS) of London Metropolitan University in late August, which thereby stripped it of the right to authorise visas.

The UK Border Agency had conducted a probe into the University and had found that there were irregularities in 61% of the files randomly sampled.  The Home Office also said that they found “that 26 students out of a sample of 101 were studying at LMU even though they did not have leave to remain in the Britain”[1]. According to their investigation, the University exhibited “serious systematic failures” demonstrated by the fact that of the sample group, a quarter did not have permission to stay in the UK, a “significant proportion” did not have a good standard of English and that in more than half of the cases, there was no proof that they were turning up to lectures.[2]  This has been loudly criticised by student representatives like Liam Burns of the National Union of Students (NUS) who pointed out the negative impression such measures were creating among international students:

“Seeing international students as an easy target, successive government reforms have made international students feel unwelcome – from huge delays for in-country visa applications, to ever-rising visa application fees, and the scrapping of the post study work visa. The impact of such rhetoric is already being keenly felt – a recent National Union of Students (NUS) survey of more than 900 international students found that 40% of students would not recommend studying in the UK to a friend.

Indeed, ONS figures of migration released on Thursday show that while immigration into the UK has fallen by 36,000 this year, student visas have fallen by 75,000 – a drop of 21%. The news surrounding London Met’s licence cannot fail to compound this.”[3]

On the other hand, this measure by the UKBA and the Home Office has been lauded in the Telegraph blog, “London Metropolitan University and student visas: the Government is doing the right thing on immigration”[4], which lauded the Government on ‘doing the right thing’.

Personal Response to the Recent Developments

“The right thing”, seems like an odious thing to say. My first impulse was one that was possibly shared by many other readers. I was shocked and angry, as I considered the alarming situation these students find themselves in; just before the start of the academic year and after having paid large tuition fees. The fact that many of them work, is not simply because they’ve gone to the UK for that purpose but often because they need to do something to cover their living costs while living in one of the most expensive cities on Earth! By considering such ‘immigrants’ simply as leeches, seeking to send remittances back home, the government and the Telegraph is callously disregarding the intent of the vast majority to obtain an academic degree from what is, till now, a country still respected for its higher education. The Telegraph article – the link to which is provided above – even claims that 1 in 7 students do not attend lectures in private colleges. Read that again, private colleges. That is really not that large a number is it, especially compared to the number of international students that arrive in total each year?

The group that actively abuses the visa process to become immigrants is still in a minority and should not provide the benchmark by which all international students are measured. Unfortunately, such UK government action and the portrayal of overseas students in the Telegraph, the Daily Mail etc perpetuates such an unfair image. I fear that the atmosphere generated from such actions will breed ill will between domestic and overseas students which will in turn jeopardize the academics of those who are earnestly pursuing higher academic qualifications. This concern seems to be shared with Guardian columnist Elspeth Jones:

“The revoking of LMU’s licence for international students will have a number of far-reaching consequences, not least financial. What looks like a political decision, or even scapegoating of LMU to satisfy right-wing immigration rage, will have unforeseen consequences across the university and for the individual students within it.

Coming just days before the start of term, the impact on incoming students will be considerable. Some will have worked hard to secure funding and support to achieve their dream of studying abroad, others will have packed and sent things ahead, some may even have arrived in the UK ready for the start of term. As for those already on courses, their search for another university will be complicated by the ease or difficulty with which existing credits are recognised by an equivalent course in a university that is still accepting applications.”[5]

She goes on to add that such measures will detrimentally impact the diversity of UK Universities as well as prevent UK domestic students from breaking out of their ‘parochial worldview’.

To deal with this crisis, the Universities Minister has set up a task force to find places for ‘legitimate students’. My immediate impression was that the task force would have difficulty addressing the following issues:

a) establishing what a ‘legitimate student’ is and the standards that need to be met to qualify as the aforementioned,

b) undertaking such an evaluation of two thousand students in a period between 30 days from the end of August (around when the academic year will start and fresh enrolment will conclude) and 60 days (when the UKBA is ordered to deport them), and

c) finding University seats for those who are considered legitimate, in that same space of time. They’re definitely faced with an up-hill task given the fact that such a decision was made at a late juncture and as there are not many Universities that will take on transfer students from lower ranked Universities.

Furthermore, I am concerned about whether this will set a precedent for other institutions and universities. This is what the head of the London Metropolitan University said to the Guardian:

“The loss of ability to authorise visas “sends a fear through many universities in a way that I think is going to be detrimental to their confidence as higher education institutions, but also the projection of brand UK abroad.”

He said responses from other universities included “commiseration, worry, anger, but also a feeling of probably, ‘well thank God it wasn’t us this time’. I think that shows the nervousness that many in the sector have, especially at a time when clearly government policy is changing but also when the [UKBA] guidelines have been changing very rapidly.”

Giles also said that the future of the university, which has 30,000 students, is at risk because the punishment for its immigration failures will leave a £30m hole in its annual budget, a fifth of the total.”[6]

Legal Implications

It seems that my concerns over the suspension of LMU’s license have been addressed in the Administrative Division of the High Court as of 21 September 2012. Mr Justice Irwin heard representations from Richard Gordon QC, Counsel for LMU and Lisa Giovannetti QC, Counsel for the Home Office, after the University made the decision to contest the suspension of their license.

The former argued that there was a strong case that the UKBA acted unlawfully as “the UKBA can’t point to any [current] student who is in breach of immigration control requirements”[7] and as such, this measure is ‘draconian’ in severity. The latter contended that the University knew that their system did not comply with sponsorship requirements and though there were attempts to redress this, it was ineffective.

Upon hearing their submissions, the Honourable Judge decided to grant an interim injunction to allow more than a 1,000 internatonal students at LMU to start their courses on Monday, 24 September, while waiting for the University to judicially review the Secretary of State for the Home Department’s (SSHD) decision. The granting of this injunction was in line with an earlier decision made in regard to City Banking College Ltd. on 24 July 2012 in the case The Queen on the Application of City Banking College-and- Secretary of State for Home Department [2012] EWCH 33. The difference between that case and the present one is that in the former, the students of City Banking College Ltd. did not have to look for another college or leave the UK within a 60 day time frame. While the University was not allowed to recruit further overseas students, they were still allowed to retain their Tier 4 status, which means that it will be easier for it obtain a new Tier 4 status and recruit future students with minimal damage to the institution’s reputation.[8]

LMU, in contrast, have had their Tier 4 status revoked[9] and has, according to the UKBA, failed to have its sponsor status restored. They have allowed ‘genuine students’ to remain in the UK until the end of the course or the end of the academic year, whichever is sooner[10], but ‘non-genuine students’ are not allowed to stay on in the UK.[11]

I, along with many LMU students and their concerned families, will be waiting anxiously to see the outcome of this judicial review process. I hope that at the very least, it will be in line with the decision in City Banking College case.


[1] A Travis, “London Metropolitan University wins reprieve in student visa row” The Guardian [Available online at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/sep/21/london-metropolitan-university-reprieve-student-visa?CMP=twt_fd] [Accessed on 24 September 2012]

[2] Telegraph Reporters, “London Met banned from issuing visas to foreign students” The Telegraph [Available online at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/universityeducation/9508115/London-Met-banned-from-issuing-visas-to-foreign-students.html%5D [Accessed on 30 August 2012]

[3] L Burns, “London Met decision: ill-judged, badly timed and poorly executed” The Guardian on Facebook [Available online at: http://apps.facebook.com/theguardian/commentisfree/2012/aug/31/london-met-international-students?fb_ref=fb_opengraph,type:read,user:ICOu9Qqcb5mFyfmjpPXBarIfD7s&fb_source=other_multiline&fb_action_types=news.reads] [Accessed on 30 August 2012]

[4] E West, “London Metropolitan University and student visas: the Government is doing the right thing on immigration” The Telegraph (Blog) [Available online at: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/edwest/100178565/student-visas-the-government-continues-to-do-the-right-thing-over-immigration/%5D [Accessed on 30 August 2012]

[5] E Jones, “London Met and Paralympics 2012: a tale of hypocrisy in international policy” The Guardian on Facebook [Available online at: http://apps.facebook.com/theguardian/higher-education-network/blog/2012/aug/30/london-met-paralympics-opening-ceremony?fb_ref=fb_opengraph,type:read,user:ICOu9Qqcb5mFyfmjpPXBarIfD7s&fb_source=other_multiline&fb_action_types=news.reads][Accessed on 30 August 2012]

[6] J Meikle and S Malik, “Taskforce to help London Met international students” The Guardian on Facebook [Available online at: http://apps.facebook.com/theguardian/p/3a4ny] [Accessed on 30 August 2012]

[7] A Travis, “London Metropolitan University wins reprieve in student visa row” The Guardian [Available online at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/sep/21/london-metropolitan-university-reprieve-student-visa?CMP=twt_fd] [Accessed on 24 September 2012]

[8] Nabila Mullick, (24 September 2012) The Queen on the Application of City Banking College-and- Secretary of State for Home Department [2012] EWCH 33, No. 5 Chambers News Publications [Available online at: http://www.no5.com/news-publications/publications/nabila-mallick–the-queen-on-the-application-of-city-banking-college-and–secretary-of-state-for-home-department-[2012]-ewch-33] [Accessed on 10.10.2012]

[9] UKBA (30 August 2012) “London Metropolitan University’s licence to sponsor students is withdrawn”, UK Border Agency Latest News and Updates, [Available online at: http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/sitecontent/newsarticles/2012/august/28-LMU-revoked1] [Accessed on 10.10.2012]

[10] UKBA (28 August 2012) “Guidance for international students sponsored by London Metropolitan University”, UK Border Agency, [Available online at: http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/sitecontent/newsfragments/72-LMU-student-page] [Accessed on 10.10.2012]

[11] Gherson [26 September 2012] “London Metropolitan University granted permission to apply for judicial review”, Gherson News & Articles, [Available online at: http://www.gherson.com/news-articles/london-met-judicial-review-3484/] [Accessed on 10.10.2012]

Morshed
Dhaka

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