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London Met loses highly trusted sponsor status

London Metropolitan University has become the UK’s first university to lose its right to recruit non-EU students, the UK Border Agency revealed last night. 2,700 international students, either about to start or in the midst of degree courses, will be given 60 days to find alternative universities to sponsor them or face deportation.

London Metropolitan University has become the first UK university to lose its right to recruit non-EU students (R/DV/RS' photostream)London Metropolitan University has become the first UK university to lose its right to recruit non-EU students (R/DV/RS' photostream)

Students will now have 60 days to find a new course, change to another visa, or leave the UK

The announcement comes after a week of criticism of UKBA, which has dithered over whether or not to strip the university’s highly trusted sponsor status after suspending it in July following an audit. With the beginning of term just weeks away and admissions for many courses already closed, some warn students will be hard pushed to find new courses in time.

In a statement posted on the university’s website last night, London Met Vice-Chancellor Malcolm Gillies said: “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, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), the National Union of Students and its own Students’ Union.”

UKBA said the licence to recruit had been revoked because of “serious and systemic failings” with problems found in 61% of files randomly sampled during its audit. More than a quarter of students were said to be studying at the university when they had no leave to remain in the UK. Students had also fallen short of mandatory levels of English and absence was unacceptably high – all breaches of the conditions of a Tier 4 student visa.

“More than a quarter were studying at the university when they had no leave to remain in the UK”

Students will now have 60 days to find a new course, change to another visa, or leave the UK. The government said it had set up a taskforce led by HEFCE and Universities UK to help those affected by the decision. “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,” Universities minister, David Willetts, said.

Others have condemned the decision as “heavy handed” and “chaotic”, and Gillies says it could cost the University £30 million. Damage to the UK’s reputation is also feared: only two UK universities have previously had their HTS suspended but both were later reinstated.

Liam Burns, NUS president, 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.”

“Revocation of a university’s licence should only be a decision of last resort”

Universities UK 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.”

London Metropolitan University is one of the UK’s most prolific recruiters of international students, with an overseas cohort of 10,000 (other EU and non-EU) – some 10% of London’s international student population.

UKBA said: “These are problems with one university, not the whole sector. British universities are among the best in the world – and Britain remains a top-class destination for top-class international students.”

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