Confusion erupted after The Sunday Times reported that Theresa May, the home secretary, was going to remove the university’s highly trusted sponsor status six weeks after it had been suspended over an investigation into visa compliance.
The Home Office and the UK Border Agency (UKBA) subsequently denied this, but Malcolm Gillies, vice chancellor of London Metropolitan University, said the situation remained “hugely worrying”. If HTS is removed, some 2,700 students may have to seek places at other universities despite the facts the start of term is just a few weeks away and admissions for many courses have closed.
“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,” said Gillies on Sunday.
“To learn that we might have our HTS status revoked via a newspaper is outrageous”
“As far as we are officially aware, UKBA is still working through an analysis of our case… 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.”
Gillies said the university had written to the Prime Minister, home secretary and immigration minister seeking clarification. Influential MP Keith Vaz, chairman of the home affairs select committee, also wrote to Immigration Minister Damian Green today urging a decision.
“For the sake of this university and others, especially at this time of year, I hope the minister will urgently clarify the situation,” Vaz said.
London Met had its HTS suspended on July 16th after UKBA allegedly took issue with how it stored and collected data on non-EU students. Gillies claimed only “a small minority of its international students” were in question but accepted the need for adaptations. However, he said that revoking the university’s license would be a disproportionate punishment and could lead to a £30m loss – a fifth of the university’s budget.
“If the decision goes against London Met, it will be the first UK university to lose its right to recruit overseas”
He added that the UK’s reputation in the overseas student market was also at threat. If the decision goes against London Met, it will be the first UK university to lose its right to recruit overseas students. Students would also have just 60 days to find alternative universities to sponsor them or face deportation.
Daniel Stevens, international students’ officer for the National Union of Students, said: “Even those that do find new courses may find themselves thousands of pounds out of pocket and having to uproot to another part of the UK. Students and institutions should be helped to manage the visa sponsorship process rather than facing hasty punitive measures that threaten universities that are both valuable centres of learning and important businesses.”
Students worried about their place at LMU may call this London Metropolitan University hotline: (+44) (0)20 7133 4141.