London Metropolitan University banned from sponsoring and teaching non-EU students

More than 2,000 foreign students, including several hundred from India, may be forced to return home or 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 to find another university to sponsor them or go home — failing which they would be deported.

Amid scenes of anger, panic and confusion, 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.”

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, so what is 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announced that the LMU’s Highly Trusted Sponsor Status (HTS), which allowed it to sponsor non-EU foreign students, had been revoked as it had “failed to address serious and systemic failings” relating to suspected visa abuse identified six months ago.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 were 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 for lectures, he claimed.

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 [Wednesday] 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 U.K.,” he said.

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

University and College Union warned that the move would deter foreign students from coming to Britain. “No matter how this is dressed up, the damaging message that the U.K. deports foreign students studying at U.K. universities will reach all corners of the globe,” said its general secretary Sally Hunt.

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 than their highly-subsidised British peers.

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