A university has opened a hotline to offer reassurance to concerned international students after it was reported the institution had lost its highly trusted sponsor status.
London Metropolitan University (LMU) and its students outside the EU have been left in limbo while the UK Border Agency (UKBA) decides whether to withdraw the education provider's ability to recruit students overseas.
The university in North London had its high trusted sponsor (HTS) status suspended on 16 July over fears a small minority of its international students did not have accurate documentation to remain in the UK, thus preventing it from recruiting such students until further notice.
With the start of the September term looming, international students have been plunged into uncertainty about their future, with LMU's vice-chancellor dubbing the situation "outrageous". The investigation by UKBA is believed to have already cost the university in excess of £10m.
International students enrolled at the university are required to pay 50% of their tuition fee in advance. With some courses such as Masters costing up to £13,500, many students will be concerned what will happen to their money.
Yemi is due to start an Msc information technology course in September at LMU. The Nigerian student told HuffPost UK:
"My application has been on hold since I applied on 13 July. I think UKBA has the right to withdraw a university licence, but the timing is very wrong.
"If the audit was conducted in march they should have suspended the uni earlier, even before the uni issued out any CAS. Those CAS already issued out before the 16th of July should be valid at least, its a bad reputation for london met and also UKBA."
Yemi has already paid £4000 to the university for a CAS letter, which gives the recipient the ability to apply for a UK visa. "I got an offer from City University," Yemi continues, "which is a better uni but its too late now."
"I'm just so confused at the moment, I put my career life on hold to apply for the Msc at London Met and know I don't know what my fate is."
A spokesperson for LMU told HuffPost UK around 300 CAS letters had been issued to overseas students.
LMU, which describes itself as one of "the top 10 most popular universities in England for international students", opened the helpline at 9am on Tuesday. The decision to offer help is thought to have been prompted by an article in the Sunday Times last weekend that claimed Theresa May had already made the decision to withdraw the university's power to sponsor visas.
A UKBA spokesperson would not confirm when the decision is due, reiterating: "We have not made a decision yet.
"Any education provider has to meet strict standards, ensuring they provide high quality education, and take their immigration responsibilities seriously. We will not tolerate any abuse of the immigration system."
LMU posted a message on its website following publication of the article in the Times, which read:
"We are aware of information in today's Sunday Times newspaper about London Metropolitan University and UKBA. We will be making an announcement once the facts are known on Tuesday. We will be providing advice and support to those affected from Tuesday."
But the university has yet to learn whether it will retain its current HTS status.
Malcolm Gillies, LMU's vice-chancellor, said the university had "repeatedly tried" to liaise with the UKBA for the past six weeks. Gillies attributed the agency's concerns to "processes related to the legacy of previous management".
"Disappointingly, the UKBA has been unwilling to communicate with the university, despite the growing £10m-plus hole their action has already left on our balance sheet," he continued.
"To learn that we might have our HTS status revoked via a newspaper, with the panic that this can cause for thousands of students, is outrageous.
"We have written to the Prime Minister, Home Secretary and Immigration Minister and asked them to outline who authorised the briefing of the story to theSunday Times and what consideration was given to the impact it might have on our students.
"At this time, our concern is with our students: to inform and assist our international students and applicants, who have put their faith in our institution. They will need clear information on their options for future study and timelines for securing those options."
Daniel Stevens, NUS International Students’ Officer commented:
"The incredibly chaotic manner in which this issue has been dealt with has caused a great deal of concern for many, and most particularly, of course, the students at London Met. This is wholly unacceptable, and entirely unnecessary. We await the final decision on London Met’s HTS status from the Home Office, and hope that they are mindful of the extreme consequences any revocation of the license would cause, and that they act from now on in a manner which reflects this."
Although several universities and higher education providers have had their licences to recruit overseas students suspended, no UK university has ever been wholly stripped of its power.
Andy Burrows, online editor of ForeignStudents.com described the ordeal as "impossible".
"Whilst it is important to police the way that British universities work with international students and student visas, the way the London Met case has been dealt with is ridiculous," he told HuffPost UK. "The decision should never have been left to such a late point of time, and then leaked through rumours in the press.
"It has left thousands of international students in an impossible situation of confusion, and begins to look like a punishment on them rather than the university."
The university's hotline can be reached on: +44 (0) 20 7133 4141