The head of Goldsmiths branch of the University and College Union has launched a petition demanding amnesty for international students at London Metropolitan University after the government’s decision to revoke its right to sponsor them.
Over 2500 international students at London Met, which has campuses in Tower Hamlets, could be deported unless they can enroll at another university within six months.
The UK Border Agency pulled the University’s ‘Highly Trusted Status’ after it reportedly discovered more than a quarter of students sampled throughout investigations did not have permission to live in the UK.
This will prevent students from outside the European Union from studying at the university – including those who are midway through degrees and others who are due to start this year.
Des Freedman, a lecturer at Goldsmiths and president of the college’s branch of the University and College Union, told EastLondonLines: “This is an unprecedented decision from the UKBA which will devastate students and staff at an institution that is already facing an uncertain future.
“It sends out a message that, far from us welcoming international students and recognising their huge contribution to UK higher education, they are instead to be seen as a threat and to be treated with suspicion.
“I hope that all those involved in higher education will join together to demand an amnesty for all current international students at London Met and that the UKBA look again at their decision.”
The full petition, found here, is backed by the heads of London Met’s UCU branch, and demands that the university’s students be allowed to continue their studies while any problems with its immigration policies are addressed.
The petition states: “We believe that it is completely contrary to natural justice that students should be punished for problems emanating from their University…the UKBA’s decision punishes thousands of students who are entirely innocent of any alleged immigration breaches.”
Goldsmiths UCU said the agency had failed to make clear the reason behind the decision. Although papers such as The Times reported that the university had broken immigration regulations, the official notice of the decision had disappeared from UKBA’s website at the time of writing.
Immigration minister Damian Green told the BBC on Thursday morning that in more than half of cases the University could not show that students had turned up to their lectures. He said “more than a quarter” of sampled students were studying without leave to remain, and a “significant proportion” did not speak English to a mandatory level.
President of the National Union of Students Liam Burns said: “It is disgusting that international students continue to be used as a political football by politicians who seem either incapable of understanding, or are simply uncaring about the impact of their decisions on individuals, universities and the UK economy.
“This decision will create panic and potential heartbreak for students not just at London Met but also all around the country.”
But Aashti Bawa, International Students’ Officer at Goldsmiths Students’ Union, who is also an international student from Oman, approved of the UKBA’s decision.
She said: “I’m not saying it is right that there are so many international students looking for help and a place to go and finish their studies, but, as a sponsor, it was the university’s responsibility to ensure that they had students with visas as well as ensuring that those international students were attending classes.
“This irresponsibility has put all international students in danger of becoming victims of deportation and immigration changes not only in London, but in all of the UK.
Universities UK, the higher education membership group, stressed that the decision would not affect students at other universities and said it was working as part of a ‘task force’ with London Met, the NUS and others to mitigate its impact.
It said: “The UKBA’s decision to revoke London Metropolitan University’s licence will cause anxiety and distress to those many legitimate international students currently studying at London Metropolitan, and their families.
“We believe that there were alternative ways of addressing UKBA’s concerns, and that revocation of a university’s licence should only be a decision of last resort.”
The decision could cost London Met as much as £30m, according to the Guardian. Universities are becoming increasingly dependent on international students, who can be charged higher prices, after massive cuts to their government teaching grants.
Queen Mary, University of London, in Mile End, have been assured of their Highly Trusted Status following a recent visit from the UKBA. The university said it takes its responsibilies as a sponsor “very seriously” and backed the UUK’s statement.
But Kathryn Denyer, an immigration law expert at LexisPSL, said many more universities could see their right to sponsor revoked.
Denyer said: “The criteria for Highly Trusted Sponsors have become more stringent over time and the UK Border Agency no longer issues sponsor action plans to these sponsors as an alternative to revocation. Revocation action is therefore more likely to be taken now than in the past.
“The sponsorship regime focuses almost exclusively on preventing or addressing abuse of immigration laws, with issues such as financial losses to individual students and damage to the UK’s export market for international students being out of scope.”
“Unless the UKBA softens its approach, it is likely that other universities will have their licences revoked in the coming months.”
Written by Jo Abbas, Alan Dymock and Laurence Dodds