London Metropolitan Saga - What Next?

31/08/2012 16:10 BST | Updated 31/10/2012 09:12 GMT

Home Office's United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA) has decided to revoke the licence of London Metropolitan University - London Met. It is an unprecedented decision that disallows for the first time a UK university from being able to recruit students from outside the European Union.

The UKBA has advised that they came to this decision after an audit of the university and found that the university had not complied with its obligations. It was found by the UKBA that the university was not aware of visa status of some of its students, that some of the students' English wasn't up to the mark and they found that many students were cutting lectures. According to UKBA, this created a presumption that many of the students were not there to study.

The second and third objections raised by UKBA are highly flimsy. Since introduction of the Tier 4 system in 2009, every student has to show their English proficiency not only to the University they are to attend, but also to UKBA. Standard proficiency tests like IELTS are taken, and students have to pass them to a higher level before they could even get admission. It is thus, difficult to understand how University failed to live up to the standard required for English, since the UKBA itself verifies English proficiency, and even conduct interviews with the candidates. Further, while the UKBA has introduced a system whereby sponsoring educational institutions are asked to keep record of students attending the university/college, this system at least in relation to university is highly intrusive to the way universities work. Different courses work on different basis, and many of them may not require students to attend each and every lecture. Similarly, not all students do learn more with attending lectures per day. University is a place where one size fit all approach is disconnected and students are treated as responsible adults and given freedom to learn in a way that is most adaptable to them. Secondly the attendance requirement is also fuelled with Universities having to then threatening to rusticate students with low attendance. But, here is the catch 22, UKBA also sees it unfavourably if educational provider has students dropping out, say for instance due to poor attendance.

In any case, the first requirement is clear and if London Metropolitan University failed to keep records of its students, then it should be held liable. Though one can also perhaps sympathise with the Universities based in a country where carrying and proving of id is considered a civil liberty issue.

Vice-Chancellor of London Met has stated that revoking of their license is a "disproportionate" decision. Certainly with revocation of the licence, the current students at the university now have to find places at different universities to complete their studies, in some cases this maybe last year students. This decision directly affects around 2,700 plus international students. The UKBA has formed a special unit that would assist students; however it's not clear how much they'd be willing to assist. They have also informed students that they can remain in the country. Does this mean that the unit would help students to get admissions in other universities or is just an advisory unit? These are extraordinary steps taken by the UKBA in this circumstance. But the comment by vice-chancellor remains still valid, the decision does seem disproportionate. London Metropolitan University was a Highly Trusted University; there are three other ratings below this, the Rating A, Rating B and legacy. Rating B is given to sponsoring educational establishment that fails to comply. This has an effect they cannot sponsor any more students, but they can continue to teach the students already at the establishment. This happens while the sponsor works with the UKBA to gain at least upto a Rating A.

Rating B then was understood to be a very potent shock, which on one end jolted the administration into realising that they are on verge of losing their licence, yet allowed the current students an ability to finish their studies. The fact that UKBA chose not to follow this route, and revoke the licence all together may have been the reason why many are considering this to be disproportionate decision.

The University has an option have this decision judicially reviewed in the courts, and as such there is likely to be this point raised by the university. Students too, who are going to be affected in that they are left with prospect of huge monetary loss and without a qualification, may sue both the University and the Home Office. Expect legal drama, with possibilities of large monetary compensations being paid to the students of London Metropolitan University. This may even have an effect of bankrupting an already struggling university. Apart from a possible closing of the university, another possible legacy that may be of this decision is likely that UK, apart from perhaps the top 10 universities which would always remain sought after, would no longer be seen as a reliable destination for higher education. In its attempt to curb net-immigration, the Home Office has certainly strangled a £5Bn cash cow.