London Metropolitan University vs UKBA

The London Metropolitan University / UK Border Agency has been in the news recently, but unless you are inside Higher Education, the significance of this might be lost. I want to give my view on what’s going on, especially for those of you who aren’t in HE. I also would like people to sign the petition linked to at the bottom to support the current students who have been left high and dry.

I know several administrators at London Met and other Universities who deal with the UKBA Points Based System, and so I’ve been watching this closely since March. Most of this is reported in various places, including yesterday’s House of Commons Debate (watch), Times Higher, Guardian and the BBC, and I am grateful to Supriyo Chaudhuri for invaluable perspective on the wider international implications.

Scapegoat

What the UKBA have done is to attack an easy target and boost the profile of “immigration”. The reasons they are giving for London Met’s “systemic” failures a result of their own mistakes (the Commons Public Accounts Committee have pointed out many of these) but also their constant changes in policy.

In the last 3 years since the system was launched, the rules that Universities have to abide by have changed 14 times. When you set up systems to enrol students at the start of year, you have them ready to capture certain data, but you can’t then go back several times in the year and rerun that exercise, especially not at a large institution.

Other claims by UKBA as being examples of systemic failures are also being exaggerated, with selective application of the UKBA’s own rules:

1) Language testing, for example is a red herring. If a student has previously studied at an English speaking country, there is no obligation to test or verify their level of English.

2) Or students whose leave to remain has been revoked by the UKBA – unless the UKBA inform an institution of this, they will continue study. An institution is not allowed to query leave status, and why would they unless there was reason to suspect a bogus student?

3) Say, a student who wasn’t attending lectures. This was another of the “systemic” failures, but in reality you’re not necessarily going to have records of every attendance, perhaps you decide that seminars, exams and enrolments are the times that you take a record of this. Once again, the rules appear to have been ambiguous, and UKBA were picking up on historical cases, students who had enrolled, completed their exams, attended graduation and left the country.

So there’s a big disparity between what the UKBA are saying is a systemic problem at one single university, and what London Met and others within HE are saying is a failure of the UKBA to implement a system that was flawed in the first place. The details of this will no doubt come out in the next few weeks as London Met challenge the revocation.

Damage to UK HE reputation

What this is going to do, is damage the reputation of all UK Universities in the international market, reducing a huge portion of the income stream for most institutions. Legitimate students who are paying £30,000 fees upfront have already started to leave and go to a “safer” country like Australia. Students at other UK Universities are already starting to ask questions about whether or not this scenario is going to happen to them.

In the mean time, there are thousands of students at London Met in their 2nd or 3rd year of Undergraduate study, or at the end of a Masters or PhD, who now have to find another place to continue study, or get deported, having wasted thousands of pounds on their education. The UKBA’s “task force” will do nothing for these people. Keith Vaz attended London Met yesterday and reported that he saw only 1 student who had managed to secure a new place, but only by repeating a year and paying £10,000 fees over again.

Some of these people were on specialist courses unique to London Met, others such as PhD students may have completed their thesis at the end of many years of study, but are yet to complete their Viva – a long interview with the expert academics in that field. These cannot easily be arranged, especially not with the threat of deportation, in some cases with someone’s entire family. For others, their home country may not be as liberal as the UK, so their academic career and a chance to make a difference at home is ended at a stroke.

What next?

London Met will continue their fight, the UKBA will continue to come under scrutiny, and international students will reconsider whether the UK is a safe place to study. London Metropolitan University won’t be the only target – the Minister for Immigration evaded questions yesterday about whether or not they were looking at other institutions.

The only thing that can help the current students is an amnesty for those that the UKBA recognises are legitimate. It’s within their power, and they would lose nothing by allowing these people to finish their study before returning home.

So please support this petition and see if we can recover something from this fiasco.

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About loidon

Technical support in an IT-centric academic department. Jack of all trades, master of none. Able to bluff on most subjects!

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