London Met University stripped of its license

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 Donald’s. 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!).

Chilling effect

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!

Bottom feeders

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.

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5 thoughts on “London Met University stripped of its license

  1. I regret that I have little sympathy with higher educational establishments, as they have been colluding on an industrial scale for years with ‘students’ abusing the immigration system who have only really come to work. It is not ‘some’ students who are the problem, but many tens of thousands, a large number of whom go on to overstay once they realise what a soft system we have. Genuine students who turn up for studies should have nothing to fear from rigorous checks on their attendance.

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    • While I’m not denying that there are some students who are over here for reasons other than studying, and indeed some uni’s have been directly colluding in this on a fairly large scale. But even the tens of thousands you allude too (got a reference for that?), would represent a tiny minority of such students in the UK.

      As I pointed out in my article most of the UKBA’s efforts in this regard are useless against these “students” as they usually stop paying their fees once in the country and stop attending meetings or lectures, and all we can do is report the matter.

      In the mean time the UKBA is inflicting “collective punishment” to many legitimate students who are only here to study. And because they are here to study they’ll go thro all the hoops the UKBA requires (which to me proves they’re probably legitimate). Now thousands of such students at the LMU face being punished for a crime they didn’t commit.

      As I also pointed out, if you want the UK uni’s to curb their recruitment of tier 4 students, then the government has to be prepared to abolish tuition fees, or start providing universities with more money directly from the Treasury in some way…which would essentially mean abandoning they’re (don’t laugh) deficit reduction plan. I take it you would support such a policy?

      Bottom line, it is entirely “un-British” and bigoted, to treat every overseas student in the UK as some sort of fence jumper and criminal, just because he’s some dark skinned foreigner….noting of course that the top three sources of UK overseas students are (1) Europe (2) China and (3) USA/Canada.

      And if the government insists on doing so, then they have to willing to bare the financial costs of such a policy.

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  2. The problem is that not just have these “students” not been paying their fees once in the country and stop attending meetings or lectures: and all you do is report the matter, but you then invite in a load more “students” to replace the ones who have sloped off into the shadows.

    That is not counting the many who are simply here to work, and who coast along on easy courses (some even pay for other people to write their course work) whodo not gte reported.

    It may well be that there are some places of learning which do not accept such behaviour, but one which has been shut down clearly did. They not only had students abusing thier visas but also had a sugnificant number of students who didn’t even have permisison to be in the UK at all.

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    • Let’s quit the Daily-Mail rhetoric, I didn’t “let anyone in”, the university did and they will say that they are only implementing government policy (both Tory under Major & Cameron and labour under Blair & Brown) of supplementing their finances by recruiting foreign students in large numbers.

      While there are bad apples, I would say that +90% of our overseas students are probably bonefide (while some don’t apply themselves this is probably due to the usual problems that afflict all student, i.e. realising that a degree involves a lot of work or that they picked the wrong course). On average I would say more attentive that my domestic UK students. Many of the overseas students are from well to do families back home and have every intention of leaving at the end of their course, indeed a number of the them complain about the climate, bland food and drunken antics of other students.

      Even the ~10% I’m unsure about, I won’t want to comment on (9/10 you find there’s its more a case of problems at home or them dropping out and not telling us), other than to say that they met all the criteria set by the UKBA when they arrived (obviously they break the rules we report the matter). I am a lecturer not a border guard, and part of the problem here is the Tory’s have left the UKBA without the finances to monitor the border, so they are trying to fob off their responsibilities onto us.

      You seem to advocate pretty much closing the border to all “foreigners” (like I said, the Yanks would kick up stink if we did that!). In essence you and Tory’s are advocating “collective punishment” on those who are innocent of any offence, for the crimes of the minority. I know of only two regimes on planet Earth who advocate collective punishment, one operates out of Pyongyang and the other out of Downing street.

      My long term career plans involve going back to Ireland. While we do have foreign students in Ireland, we don’t have the sort of problems evident in the UK system, nor issues with mass cheating and plagiarism. I suspect this is probably because we never commercialised universities in Ireland and don’t have tuition fees.

      I repeat the question you seem reluctant to answer:

      Are you prepared to pay the costs of financing universities without these foreign students?

      If you disagree, then quit whining.

      You mention plagiarism. I’m going to be doing a piece on this later so I’ll be brief. If anything you understate the problem – we have an epidemic of cheating in UK universities right now! My uni has a fairly hardline policy (we require that all coursework is now submitted electronically and gets filtered thro “similarity detection” software) which I fully support. Indeed I would argue it doesn’t go far enough. However, its an unfair generalisation to blame foreign students for plagiarism. There are as many cases with UK students and my personal experience means I would be reluctant to finger any particular group as being the most responsible.

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