Overseas students at London Met start studies on Monday after High Court grants right to fight ban

Pic: Max Sang

London Metropolitan University was granted the right to challenge a ban on its overseas students – after a BBC investigation found it had already taken aggressive measures to clean up its record-keeping when the decision was made.

The High Court gave London Met permission to challenge the UK Border Agency’s decision in court and ruled that existing students whose immigration status is not in doubt would be allowed to begin their studies when term starts on Monday.

But a BBC investigation on Thursday night found that although the university had substantial record-keeping issues, it had reduced its percentage of incomplete files from one third to 2%, and had informed the UKBA of this change.

The government announced a £2 million fund to help LMU’s overseas students find new institutions after the university was stripped of its right to sponsor them for UK visas, leaving them at risk of deportation.

The Report, broadcast on Radio 4 on Thursday night, painted a picture of an institution scrambling to clean house amidst internal tensions and recriminations as fear of a legal crackdown set in.

The programme claimed that LMU management were aware of major problems with the university’s attendance monitoring, with the minutes of a senior management group meeting after the suspension of the license admitting attendance monitoring was “not perfect”.

Two audits carried out in the summer by the university revealed “a large amount of missing data”. Crucial information was missing in a third of cases, a rate that former UKBA worker Don Ingham called “a fairly high percentage of failure to comply.”

London Met had previously received a £36.5m fine from the Higher Education Funding Council for England after claiming money for home students that had actually dropped out.

Yet the university was already taking strong measures to try and solve the problem, warning staff that they would be suspended if they failed to carry out proper attendance monitoring.

Students whose records were incomplete were asked to provide the missing documents, and those who failed to fill the gaps were suspended or in some cases even ejected from the university entirely.

A follow-up report commissioned by the management showed the error rate in such files had dropped to 2%, and minutes indicate there was a constant process of dialogue between LMU and the UKBA.

In May, the university wrote to the agency saying it was taking action to clean up its act and had been for the last 6 months.

The Report also claimed that the UKBA’s suspicion had first settled on a deal between London Met and the privately-owned London School of Business and Finance that saw the latter pay the former to sponsor its students.

The minutes of an LMU management meeting after the March inspection said the audit was “aggressive in stance” and had focused on the proposed partnership with LSBF.

The UKBA appeared to have signed off on the deal, which allowed LMU to sponsor up to 5000 LSBF students for visas that would allow them to work outside study hours, in April.

But in August the border agency, which previously  changed its rules 14 times in 3 years, wrote back to the university with concerns about the deal, according to more internal documents.

The minutes said that border officers had admitted they were under “wider political pressure to reduce net migration” and that they saw higher education as ” loophole that needed to be closed.”

The university expected another meeting in October with UKBA to have its progress assessed but before this occurred their license was revoked.

Written by Lauren Buljubasic and Laurence Dodds

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