International students at London Metropolitan University were left in shock on Wednesday night, as they were informed that the university’s license to teach international students from outside the EU had been revoked by the UK Border Agency (UKBA). In a disgusting and provocative move by the UKBA, over 2,500 students were left with invalid visas, with only 60 days to find enrolment at another institution, or face deportation.
This crisis for international students comes at a time when tensions between the UKBA and academics and students at London Met have escalated. The UKBA flaccidly claim that students had not been keeping up attendance, that their English was not upto UKBA’s standards, and that some visas appeared to be invalid.
On the face of it UKBA may appear to have a case, but this is a politically motivated attack on its students – one which they haven’t the sufficient data to back up. The “Highly Trusted Status” has actually been revoked due to the non-compliance of sections of the University’s staff and students with the requirements of the new points-based immigration system, which requires academics to pass records of attendance and changes of circumstance to the UKBA for their international students.
When these controls were introduced lecturers and staff across the country came out to condemn the government’s move to monitor international students more closely than their UK peers – a move that was condemned as racist. Academics refused to hand over attendance records, backed by the University and Colleges Union (UCU) and the National Union of Students (NUS). The UKBA and the government have exploited the situation at London Met in an attempt to target a university whose record of standing up for student rights and defending their multicultural student body has been exemplary.
The UKBA have earned a reputation as an institution full of itchy right-wing thugs, intent on deporting the UK’s migrant population, in line with the UK’s right-wing stance on immigration. Their actions have left many students devastated. With many university courses now fully enrolled, many will be unable to find a place at another institution where they can continue their education. Emmanuel Eqwu, International Students Officer at London Met condemned the UKBA’s decision: “This period is a very tense period – most universities have finished enrolling students. So how is it possible within 60 days to get a place at a university to complete a year?”
Those who will lose out the most are the students who are left without valid visas. If you thought UK national fees were high, international students often get the sharpest end of the deal – university management who have attracted students from across the world will now be cashing in, whilst these students are left without a qualification, and huge debts. Tunde, a Nigerian student studying for an MA in Information Technology at London Met has been left with an impossible situation: “I’ve got 60 days to stay in the country” he said, “I’ve paid £9,800 for nothing and no-one is talking about refunds. I can’t call my mum to tell her – she is responsible for my fees. How can I tell her this?”
This move by the UKBA has been backed by the government, who are making it increasingly clear they wish to see London Met closed. This debacle has come weeks after university management announced plans to privatise virtually all of its support services in a £75m deal – a move that is dangerously putting profit before the welfare of its students.
Students and staff have protested and occupied their university against a huge package of cuts levelled at the university two years ago by the Higher Education Council, after mismanagement and national funding cuts. Staff at the university have also bolstered student protests against the cuts with a series of strikes that have built a united campaign on campus. Increasingly the government appear frustrated with one of the defiant campaigns against the education cuts, and Tory think tank, Policy Exchange, has targeted London Met for closure – one of the first potential casualties in the governments rolling cuts to education.
Students and staff at the university have already launched a protest outside Downing Street, calling for students to support their international peers. Amid fears that the licenses of other universities will be revoked, students are circulating a petition condemning the actions of the government and the UKBA, declaring “Hands off our students – Hands off our classmates”. On 20th October at the national TUC demonstration and on 21st November at the NUS national demonstration, students and education staff will demand an end to student deportation, and the UKBA’s harassment of London Met students.