The news last week that London Metropolitan University has lost its highly trusted status from the UK Borders Agency (UKBA) is not that troubling in itself. After all if there are irregularities in the way London Met has conducted its affairs then it ought to be investigated by the appropriate authorities.
What makes me most angry about the situation is that the ruling affects existing students. These students (or their sponsors) have paid tens of thousands of pounds and spent one, two, three four years of their lives studying for a course that they are not allowed to finish. They have not broken any law in the UK, yet they stand to be deported or refused entry to the UK unless they can find another university to take them in the next three months. As anyone who works in higher education knows transfers between universities are academically and logistically difficult at the best of times. Few courses in UK higher education are ‘like for like’ meaning that even the most well-motivated transferees are likely to face some academic disadvantage.
The decision to apply the ruling to existing students is not only unjust for the individuals affected, but is totally irrational. Here are a few reasons:
- It damages the reputation of UK higher education as a whole. This is the message which is being sent: “Come to our university! We’ll let you in but can’t promise you will be allowed to finish”. We don’t know if the London Met situation is an isolated case or the first of many. Either way it damages the reputation of the whole sector.
- This will not just affect individual student decisions, but those of sponsoring businesses or governments overseas. If a company or other organisation is paying for an employee to acquire specific skills in the UK, they don’t want the UKBA deporting their employee for something which is entirely outside their control.
- The reputational damage has spread quickly. London City University has been implicated in a Chinese newspaper due to a linguistic misunderstanding or translation error (City and Metropolitan having very similar meanings).
- It sends the message more generally that the UK is not open for business.
- It sends the message that law-abiding individuals who spend their money in the UK and contribute socially and culturally are at risk of deportation at any time.
- It sends the wider message that individuals can be punished en masse for the actions of others.
I have spent the last couple of days trying to work out why the Government is behaving the way it is: Here are a few suggestions:
- The Government wants to show its power over universities. It shows that the universities only operate with the consent of the Government.
- The Government wants to show that is “tough on immigration” and cracking down on universities, where thousands of non-EU people are in one place are a “quick win”.
- The Government has a specific vendetta against London Met. London Met has been in the news a lot in recent years for not very positive reasons. This may be a good way to get it closed down.
Just a few thoughts from me. The students at London Met don’t deserve this and neither does the sector as a whole.