London Metropolitan University Stripped Of HTS Status; 2,000 Students Face Deportation

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More than 2,000 students are facing deportation after a university was stripped of its right to teach overseas students, in a landmark ruling by the UK Border Agency.

London Metropolitan University (LMU) has had its Highly Trusted Sponsor (HTS) status revoked after the UKBA cited failure to "address serious and systemic failings" as the reason for the withdrawal.

The move comes less than three weeks before the start of the September term and was described by the National Union of Students' president as "disgusting".

london met uni

London Met University on Holloway Road has had its sponsor status withdrawn

Immigration minister Damian Green told the BBC a "significant proportion" of students did not have a good standard of English and there was no proof that half of those sampled were turning up to lectures.

"What we found here is a serious systemic failure where it appears that the university doesn't have the capacity to be a proper sponsor and to have confidence that the students coming have the right to be here in the first place," he said.

But Labour MP and chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee Keith Vaz warned the decision could "damage the reputation of our country as the best place in the world for overseas student."

The decision was announced on Wednesday, ending more than a month of uncertainty which followed after the university's licence was suspended on 16 July.

Now around 2,000 students who are already enrolled at the university have 60 days to find another college or university to sponsor them to stay in the country, or they will be sent back home, according to the NUS.

A statement posted on LMU's website shortly after the decision was made public read:

"The University regrets to announce that as at 8pm on Wednesday 29th August 2012, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) has revoked its Highly Trusted Status for sponsoring international students.

The implications of the revocation are hugely significant and far-reaching, and the University has already started to deal with these. It will be working very closely with the UKBA, HEFCE, the National Union of Students and its own Students' Union.

Our ABSOLUTE PRIORITY is to our students, both current and prospective, and the University will meet all its obligations to them."

On Wednesday night, universities Minister David Willetts announced the formation of a task force to help overseas students affected by the decision.

He said: "It is important that genuine students who are affected through no fault of their own are offered prompt advice and help, including, if necessary, with finding other institutions at which to finish their studies.

"We are asking HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England) and Universities UK to lead a task force, which will include UKBA (UK Border Agency) and the NUS, to work with London Metropolitan University to support affected students and enable them to continue their studies in the UK. The task force will start work immediately."

LMU's HTS status was suspended last month over fears a small minority of its international students did not have accurate documentation to remain in the UK.

The university said at the weekend the UKBA's investigations had already left a "£10m black hole" in their budget sheet.

The NUS have now contacted Prime Minister David Cameron and Home Secretary Theresa May to express their anger at "the way decisions have been made in recent weeks and to reiterate the potentially catastrophic effects on higher education as a £12.5bn per year export industry for the UK".

NUS president Liam Burns said: "It is disgusting that international students continue to be used as a political football by politicians who seem either incapable of understanding, or are simply uncaring about the impact of their decisions on individuals, universities and the UK economy.

"This decision will create panic and potential heartbreak for students not just at London Met but also all around the country."

Burns warned politicians a "continued attitude of suspicion" towards international students could "endanger the continuation of higher education as a successful export industry".

"This heavy-handed decision makes no sense for students, no sense for institutions and no sense for the country," he added.

Yemi, a Nigerian student who spoke to the The Huffington Post UK on Wednesday, said: "I'm disappointed my plans went down the drain".

"I chose London Met over Middlesex and City, and it proved costly. As early as February I had made plans for London Met and never in my wildest imagination did I think this could happen."

The UKBA emphasised the problems lay with one university, rather than the whole sector. "British universities are among the best in the world - and Britain remains a top class destination for top class international students.

"We are doing everything possible, working with Universities UK, to assist genuine students that have been affected."

Professor Eric Thomas, president of Universities UK, said there were other ways to address UKBA's concerns and the university's licence should only have been revoked as a last resort.

"The UKBA's decision relates to the administrative requirements placed on universities by the UKBA in order to gain and retain highly trusted sponsor status," he said.

"We believe that there were alternative ways of addressing UKBA's concerns, and that revocation of a university's licence should only be a decision of last resort."

Labour MP Keith Vaz added: "This is the worst possible time, at the start of the new academic year to do something like this.

"We are welcoming the world to the Olympics and at the same time closing the educational door to some who have in good faith paid a small fortune to get here and through no fault of their own cannot study at their university of choice.

"I feel very sorry for these students. If there are any more Universities in the same position could UKBA please tell them now".

A UKBA spokesman said: "London Metropolitan University's licence to sponsor non-EU students has been revoked after it failed to address serious and systemic failings that were identified by the UK Border Agency six months ago.


Rebecca Keating
Immigration Minister Damian Green: London Met Uni "has shown it is very very seriously deficient as a sponsor" of foreign students

"We have been working with them since then, but the latest audit revealed problems with 61% of files randomly sampled. Allowing London Metropolitan University to continue to sponsor and teach international students was not an option."

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The University has set up a Help Centre to support and advise students. The number is: +44 (0) 20 7133 4141

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