A bolt from the blue struck today with the UKBA stripping the London Metropolitan University of its license to sponsor the visa’s of non-EU (so called in the trade tier 4 students). As a consequence 2,700 of the met’s Tier 4 students are not left high and dry, with their visa’s essentially cancelled they have 60 days to find a new university, or risk being deported. There’s a good Q&A about the situation from The Guardian’s education website, should you be affected by this.
As I described in a previous post, since the early days of the Tory government the UKBA has adopted a Daily Mail-esque paranoia about foreigners (try not to scream at the mention of that word!), including university students.
Universities across the country have been put under huge pressure from the UKBA, who want us to jump through multiple hoops to keep track of overseas students. I’ve had to give up at least half a day a week over the summer (sometimes an entire day) to filling in forms as part of this. And even this schedule is mild compared to what I’m being told we’ll have to adopt next term, in which we’ll have to have face to face contact with every tier 4 student on a daily basis. Now for the undergrads doing classes during term time that’s not a problem, but for the postgrads or outside of normal term time, or on the days when students don’t have classes (some students may have days with no lectures scheduled) or when some get ill (or like so many students decide to bunk off class!) this would place a huge burden on us. Indeed I calculated that assuming a 40 hour week per lecturer, such a programme would require the department to hire 3-5 new members of staff, just to cope with the time taken up by such face to face meetings.
It is therefore with incredulity that I hear the Head of the UKBA trying to encourage students from overseas to come to the UK ….hint, how about you stop treating foreign students like their criminals and ditch the red tape!
Okay, yes we need some checks, some people do sneak into the UK on student visas, and then don’t ultimately study. But they also usually don’t bother to pay tuition fees, nor do they show up when we ask them to come to a meeting (rendering the UKBA’s policies bunk). Also given that the bulk of UK tier 4 students are paying an average of £12,000 a year to be over here (in fees, accommodation and living costs can add up it all up to £25,000 a year) I doubt it works out as cost effective for them to come here just to flip burgers in a Mac Donalds. Indeed given that the post-grads usually have degrees already, I suspect they could get a much better paid job at home, or indeed apply for a professional job in the UK and get their employer to sponsor their visa.
And while yes it seems the LMU did screw up royal and a some students in the uni were not bonafide students, but what about the majority who were? This counts as a form of collective punishment on them all, which cuts right across any notion for fair play and due process, and is often considered as a breach of human rights.
Also it hardly help matters if the Tory’s sack UK border staff and then expect us lecturers to do their dirty work! I suspect its also hardly cost effective to get the likes of me to do a load of form filling when I could be doing something else (lecturing? research? solving climate change? minor things like that!).
But it is the arbitrary nature of this stripping of a license without warning that I think will do the most damage. Consider that some students who have been here for maybe a year or two are now sixty days away from having too flush tens of thousands of pounds down the toilet. Put yourself in the shoes of a student from India (read the reaction of the Indian media here) or Brazil (read one such students story here) planning to come to he UK to start first year in a few weeks time, would you come here with this threat hanging over you?
Finding a place in another UK course, for these LMU students, won’t be easy. Clearing is winding down and while due the cock up of exams earlier in the year means there will be slots free in a couple of first year courses, there will still be few if any places available in many universities courses. Transferring to years above the freshers year is always problematic as generally we’ve only as much room as students who dropped out (or failed) the previous year, and while the failure/drop out rate for the end of first year is often high (as much as 50% in some courses) it usually much lower for 2nd year and beyond (around 10% for my department, and we usually bank on the assumption of a smaller third year, so that leaves only a handful of potential places).
Even those who are lucky enough to find another UK university (to sponsor their visa) will face another hurdle. There are often subtle differences between the courses in different universities, even if you’re studying an identical course. A number of these London Met students might find that upon moving they have to repeat a year or semester (thus having to pay fees and living expenses for a further year than planned), just to catch up (if the UKBA had made this announcement at the beginning of summer mind, we could have improvised a solution and organised a crash catchup course over the summer, but there’s no way that can be organised in the month to the beginning of term).
Inevitably these students will be texting their friends back home warning them against coming to the UK to study. This will have significant impact on the finances of UK universities. While overseas students make up 11% of the UK student population, they represent 32% of the UK’s universities income stream. They bring an estimated £5 billion into the UK each year. Already even before this announcement overseas student numbers were already down (likely as a result of all the hassle we’ve been forced by the UKBA to enforce on students), costing the UK economy an estimated £940 million, so the economic impact of these events and the chilling effect its likely to have on students should not be underestimated.
British uni’s for British students?
Of course some will probably say, good show! We shouldn’t have all these foreigners over here, UK uni’s should be for the benefit of UK students.
While admittedly I, and I suspect many lecturer’s, have never been entirely happy with the volume of tier 4 students being recruited, unfortunately we are all too aware of why universities have been aggressively chasing the overseas student market for the last few decades. And its largely a natural consequences of the policy started under John Major’s Tory’s but continued under Blair and now Cameron of what I can only describe as a defacto privatisation of UK universities.
Under this policy the UK’s universities have been encouraged to become ever more commercially orientated, both in terms of us charging fees, chasing private capital to pay for research and facilities, as well as how we treat students (as customers more than students). Obviously in such a climate, its inevitable that universities will chase the customer whom they can get the highest markup (and thus profit) from, that being these overseas students, who now represent a crucial source of revenue. Its why the car industry prioritizes the sale of SUV’s and luxury cars, even at a time of global recession with climate change and peak oil high on the agenda (again like the universities they can make far more money from the sale of these cars that they can by selling lots of cheap fuel efficient vehicles).
And the higher rates of fees now since approved can only feed this business model all the more. So indeed if we do want a system of UK uni’s for UK citizens, then the government needs to be willing to roll back its previous policies and stump up the cash to pay for that and abolish tuition fees.
Furthermore academic tourism has been a part of Universities life since the days of Luther and Erasmus. This is how new ideas travel from institution to institution worldwide. How would the UK react if Indian or American universities (its often forgotten by the Daily mail mob that the second largest source of foreign no-EU students in the UK (after China) is from the US-of-A!) suddenly announced they were forbidding UK students from applying any more? Getting drunk in a uni bar with people from the four corners of the globe is sort of one of the whole reasons behind going to university in the first place!
Of course I cannot escape the conclusion that the behaviour of the UKBA is no cock up (not even the Tory’s are this stupid!), but perfectly planned. In much the same way as the UK universities have been going for the low hanging fruit of foreign students, the UKBA have been deliberately trying to antagonise both universities and foreign students in the hope of pushing down student numbers, thus pushing down the figure for net inward migration helping them to meet their Daily-Mail inspired shut-the-border-before-the-evil-dark-skinned-foreigners-eat-our-babies targets.
Of course it is lost on the UKBA the fact that the vast bulk of these students are perfectly innocent of any charges, nor that the vast majority are only here to study and that they contribute massively to the economy and UK society while doing so (a couple of my students told me they volunteered to help out with the Olympics, hardly sounds like to mm like the sort of people we should be deporting!).
But like so many Tory policies, its another case of SAPS (Save Ass Policy Scheme) that cause enormous damage, just so some pencil pusher can get his numbers to add up….of course, I’m not suggested that they’re aren’t people in the country who shouldn’t be here. But you’d think the first port of call for the UKBA would be to round up a few Yardie gang members or indeed the many gangs who ship immigrants into the country illegally and have them work for below minimum wage as virtual slaves (or saudi business men who help fund Al-Queda), but jasus no! Am I crazy! those guys have gun’s (and good lawyers!) don’t you know, while the students have….textbooks!
What happens when a uni goes bankrupt
And the financial costs of this action are already being counted. Its been estimated that LMU could be looking at having to pay tens of millions in compensation to these overseas students for the cancellation of their course, and I suspect that this is on the low side, as this figure only includes the cost of refunding fees. I would argue that these students are fully entitled to claim reimbursement for the costs of maintenance and other spending while in the UK which would push this figure up to tens of thousands per student. Its for good reason I’m working on an future article titled what happens when a uni goes bankrupt as I suspect that we may have to answer that question sooner rather than later.
These events have all the potential to be the UK Higher Education industry’s Lehman brothers moment. As like Lehman brothers, everyone will now be looking as to which university is next, staff will be looking over their shoulder and students from overseas (those few who come) will be very picky about whom they choose to invest their time with and universities that overstretched their finances (by building new facilities on the assumption of rising student numbers and revenues from fees) will suddenly find themselves struggling financially as student numbers (home and overseas) start to fall.
I suspect its going to be a case of interesting times this semester.