London Met welcomes back foreign students

In a welcome move, London Metropolitan University has reopened its doors to foreign students. Last August, in a controversial decision, the UK Border Agency stripped the institution of its right to sponsor the visas of international students, affecting several thousand students.

In announcing the decision last week to reinstate the enrolment of these students, the government said recent inspections had showed “the university has made the necessary improvements to its monitoring of students' attendance and immigration status”.

At the time, the UK Border Agency, which has since been abolished and brought back into the Home Office, claimed that London Met was not meeting its responsibilities.

The organisation said investigations had showed that in more than a quarter of the cases it sampled at the university, students did not have permission to stay in the country and a significant proportion did not have sufficient English.

The decision to revoke London Met’s licence to sponsor non-EU students caused an international outcry: it was the first time a British university had lost its licence in this way.

The decision to overturn the ban was made after nearly 760 students, fearing that they would be deported, transferred to other universities in an effort to secure their futures in Britain.

The university is not completely out of the woods, however. It will be subjected to a year-long probationary period, during which time the number of students it can recruit from abroad will be limited.

Vice-chancellor Professor Malcolm Gillies said London Met had a long history of providing international students with quality education.

“We look forward to welcoming students from around the world who want to study at one of London’s most diverse academic institutions.” He thanked staff and students, particularly international students, for their patience and support over the past nine months.

Universities UK, the representative body for higher education institutions, was delighted at the news.

Chief Executive Nicola Dandridge said: “It’s important that lessons are learned about protecting legitimate international students. This is good news, and the priority is to make sure the student visa route works efficiently and instills public confidence.”

She said that since the admissions ban had been implemented, the organisation had worked closely with the Home Office to ensure compliance issues were tackled in a more constructive way.

There are about 300,000 non-EU students at university in Britain at any one time, worth an estimated £5 billion (US$7.7 billion) a year to the economy.

After the ban at London Met, other universities across the country were concerned that the decision would damage the UK’s reputation for higher education and deter applications from overseas students.

The University and College Union said it was pleased that the university had had its licence reinstated but that hundreds of students had been saddled with unnecessary expenses and disruptions over the past six months.

It added that the UKBA’s decision to remove London Met’s licence to teach foreign students resulted in global headlines about stranded students facing deportation and “was a disproportionate reaction to a situation that should have been addressed without recourse to such drastic action”.

By the time the UKBA announced its ban on the university, the agency had become a dysfunctional embarrassment: almost half the forced removals it attempted have had to be cancelled after successful legal challenges.