With London Metropolitan University banned from sponsoring and teaching non-EU students, thousands of youngsters, including 300-odd from India find themselves in limbo

More than 2,000 foreign students, including several hundred from India, may be forced to return home or be deported, after the London Metropolitan University (LMU) was, on Thursday, banned from sponsoring and teaching non-European Union students for allegedly harbouring illegal immigrants in the guise of students.

The students, mostly from the Indian subcontinent, Africa and the Caribbean, have 60 days until the start of the new academic session in October to find another university to sponsor them or go home—failing which they would be deported. The university has some 300 Indian students.

Amid scenes of anger, panic and confusion, the Universities Minister David Willetts announced a task force to help the affected students and the Higher Education Funding Council for England promised to work “tirelessly” to support them.

“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,” said Mr Willetts.

Denouncing the move as “outrageous”, a group of students held a silent protest outside 10 Downing Street. They sat in front of its gates with tape over their mouths.

Emmanuel Egwu, a final-year student, echoed the widespread anger and anxiety saying: “I pay a lot of money. I’ve spent £30,000 to 40,000 in tuition fees – my parents sell properties and land to make sure they can pay my fees. What’s going to happen to people like me?”

Earlier, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) announced that the LMU’s Highly Trusted Sponsor Status (HTS) which allowed it to sponsor non-EU foreign students had been revoked, as it had “failed to address serious and systemic failings” relating to suspected visa abuse identified six months ago.

Immigration minister Damian Green said the university had proved to be a “very, very deficient” sponsor. Many studying there when they did not have permission to stay in the country, and a “significant proportion” did not have a good standard of English. There was no proof that half of those sampled were turning up to lectures, he claimed.

The vice-chancellor Malcolm Gillies rejected the claims and accused the UKBA of “rewriting its own guidelines”.

“I am not going to say that we accept what is stated in the letter sent to us revoking our licence. We only received it at 8 p.m. last night and are currently doing a full analysis, working together with the best lawyers in the country. I would go so far as to say that UKBA has been rewriting its own guidelines on this issue and this is something which should cause concern to all universities in the UK,” he said.

In a statement, the university said the implications of the revocation were “hugely significant and far-reaching” and it had “already started to deal with these”.

“Our absolute priority is to our students, both current and prospective, and the University will meet all its obligations to them,” it said.

Many students said a helpline set up by the university was simply giving them telephone numbers of other universities where they could apply.

The National Union of Students called the decision “heavy-handed”, while Keith Vaz, chairman of parliament’s home affairs select committee said it had “left thousands of students in limbo” and could harm Britain’s reputation abroad.

Foreign students are much sought after by Britain’s cash-starved universities as they pay as much as three times more for the same course compared to their highly-subsidised British peers. LUM, which recruits heavily abroad, has some 30,000 foreign students.