Warwick voices concern over London Met debacle

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The decision by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) to remove London Metropolitan University’s (LMU) ‘Highly Trusted Status’ in July has been condemned by Warwick’s Student Union (SU) and the University.

At least 2,000 non-EU international students at LMU have been given 60 days to secure places at other UK institutions or face deportation.

Warwick SU’s President Nick Swain commented that “the lives of innocent students that may be potentially ruined as a result of bad judgement by their institution and the UKBA”. He wants students to voice their own concerns as well as sign the National Union of Students’ petition.

Daniel Stevens, former President of Warwick’s SU, argues that “For international students, London Met is more than an “isolated incident.” It’s the tipping point.” He sees it as part of Government policy where the rights of international students “have been under unprecedented attack in order to satisfy a Government target of reducing net migration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands by 2015”.

Phuntsok Tsering Bhutia, a postgraduate Architecture student at LMU, about to enter his sixth year has to leave: “I’ve come here solely to pursue my education…And now with just a year left, I think the situation is just outrageous. Personally me and my family are devastated by this whole event”.

He has secured a place at the University of East London but: “It’s been very difficult for other students, some students only have a semester left, and it’s impossible to do just a semester in another uni, they must start from the very beginning”.

He criticised the handling of the debacle: “[LMU] haven’t been much help, they’ve just given us a list of universities that are going to accept us. But I called the University of Westminster up and they have no seats available. So I was left with fewer choices.

“Even the difference in tuition fees, now it’s massive. At London Met we were given a certain per cent of discount to study at the same school, but now at the other universities I’ve got to pay £12,000 – a lot of money”.

UKBA have justified the stripping of LMU’s right to authorise visas on the grounds that student attendance was not being monitored and insisted that many had no right to be there. They also alleged that LMU had “failed to address serious and systemic failings” identified as far back as six months ago.

Immigration Minister Damian Green challenged LMU’s failure to monitor students’ levels of English as well as rights to remain in the country and class attendance.

However Bhutia stressed that genuine students are affected: “I think UKBA clearly knows which are the bogus students, instead of punishing everyone, they could just identify the ones who are here illegally.”

Universities Minister David Willetts pointed out that a task force, involving UKBA and the NUS, had been set up to help students find new institutions. Discussing the idea of the 60-day option Bhutia concluded: “it’s pointless because universities begin in one week, so what’s the point of having until December, because we need to get in to university before that.”

Following a thorough review LMU will be taking “urgent” legal action to challenge the revocation of its status so that its students can return to study.

Appreciative of recent protests outside the Home Office and Downing Street, Bhutia suggested that “some of the anger should be directed towards the school as well – because it’s also the fault of the University, you know, not doing proper checks, not managing properly.”

Commenting on support from other universities Bhutia told the _Boar_: “ They’re supporting us because they’re fellow students, and it’s a really nice way of approaching this issue. All students should get involved in this, it’s not only about London Met students, it’s not only about foreign students, it’s about students in general in the UK. International students are being seen as easy targets to recover the credibility of the University’s problems with migration and management.”

Head of Communications at Warwick, Peter Dunn, told the _Boar_: “The key implication for all UK universities is the damage to the reputation of the UK university system as a whole – particularly as there will be many overseas students at London Metropolitan who have done all the right things in terms of their immigration status yet find themselves facing severe disruption and even a risk of being required to leave the UK though no fault of their own”.

Writing in a personal capacity in the _Financial Times_, Warwick’s Chancellor Richard Lambert described the removal of LMU’s status as “disproportionate” and with “damaging implications for the UK university system as a whole”.

Warwick University had its ‘Highly Trusted Status’ recently reaffirmed and Swain emphasised that there was no immediate risk to anyone studying here.

But he said: “We (the SU) oppose the decision because of its impact on the whole UK Higher Education sector and the fact that since it has now happened to London Met, it could open the door to more institutions being affected and more students being forced out of their degrees.”

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